Gardening, like parenting, is a gestational activity.
We understand that for a time our plants are going to be small and weak, in need of frequent watering and special care. We acknowledge that we’ll have to put in quite a bit of effort (more or less depending on the particular plant) before we get much back in return, and we don’t expect there to be a harvest right away. So we make choices with that longer vision, that bigger picture, in mind.
I don’t say, oh, a few days of drought will make my baby beets toughen up and be better prepared to deal with bad weather in the future. On the contrary, I worry that if they’re forgotten about for a few days that they’ll be permanently stunted or weakened, so that future difficulties that I can’t prevent might spell disaster.
And I persevere in this gentle care, attentive to the immediate and present needs of the plants with a mind to the long-term goal of a productive garden, and in time the harvest comes.
(the basils, being transplants, have a bit of a head start over the beets)
Can I give my children this same gentle and attentive care?
Can I meet their present and immediate needs, keeping in mind the long-term goal for their lives, instead of demanding them to produce a harvest now, before they’ve had the time to grow and mature?
It’s not fair to expect a two-year-old to express his emotions and meet disappointment with calm grace and rational acceptance in the way that an emotionally mature adult would be able to, and even less fair to punish that two-year-old for his “defiance” or failure to comply instantly with parental demands. That would be a horrible misunderstanding of his current abilities and stage of growth, and it would make it more difficult for him to learn to cope with strong emotions or deep disappointments in a mature way in the future – it would merely teach him that those emotions are bad things that need to be hidden and ignored.
In a way, it would be like demanding my little beet sprouts to have large, red, juicy beets hiding under the soil already, instead of waiting the full two months for them to grow, and then being disappointed in or upset with the plants for failing to meet my totally unrealistic expectations.
Gentle parenting means walking with my children through the ages and stage of growth, as they deepen and mature, as their needs and abilities change, giving them the support and tools they need to grow instead of expecting them to act with skills and wisdom beyond their years. Sometimes this looks like holding my two-year-old in my arms as he sobs out his disappointed protests, letting him know that I hear and understand his feelings, that it is indeed sad and frustrating to have to do something you don’t want to do, and for the fun day of play to come to an end, instead of simply dragging him to the car and telling him to deal with it. An adult has the emotional maturity to deal with it; a two-year-old does not. But maybe my patience and understanding with his immaturity will model for him the coping skills and emotional understanding that he’ll need to gain that maturity.
With my children, like with garden, I’m making decisions moment by moment with a long-term vision in mind. The work may be silent and the fruit invisible for a long time yet, but like a baby grows in the secret places of her mother, or like a beet rounds out into fullness in the hidden darkness beneath the surface of the soil, so I trust that my children are growing into fruitful and mature adults in the nurturing and loving context of our family and home.