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The Parallels of Parenting and Gardening

While laying out mulch in my vegetable garden this week, I had to make decisions about which volunteers to leave and which to pull. Feeling indifferent, I allowed some chard, arugula and cilantro volunteers to stay, but covered them with the mulch. What will be will be with those. While engaged in this garden task, I began to think about how much my tactics in the garden have changed, due of experience but also because my soil has become richer and more fertile. This led me to reflect on how my parenting style seems to be evolving parallel to my gardening style. Mirrors of each other, really. I started to ask myself if they influence each other? Is it because all are growing up, so to speak? Or is the change rooted in me alone? Is there an interaction occurring between all of these elements together?

In the first years of this garden, I did not allow any of the volunteers that popped up to stay. I was too concerned that they would interfere with the growth of my starts, started from seed, which I had chosen carefully for each bed. At the beginning of each season, I would pull out all of the vegetable plants which had managed to hang on from the previous year and happened to be providing valuable sources for the kitchen. My husband would complain when I yanked everything out, and there were only babies in their places, leaving nothing for meal preparation. But I continued on. What did he know, I thought, he’s not a gardener?!

This year, I am giving all the individual plants in my veggie beds more credit for knowing what they are doing and what they need. I have provided all of the elements they need to grow, and I think they can make it on their own, and thrive actually, without so much interference from me.

I have mature Brussels sprouts plants, still feeding my family with flowery sprouts and nourishing leaves, residing alongside very young cauliflower. Another bed has the odd leek, later than the rest of last year's crop, growing here and there among infant cauliflower plants in a separate bed. One crop of broccoli is sharing space with a whole bunch of volunteer cilantro plants. When the cilantro get too close to the broccoli, I clear the cilantro out, making space for each individual broccoli to thrive. The cilantro plants further away get to grow, flourish, and season our meals. Other broccoli and kale beds are dotted with free growing Swiss chard of all sorts of parentage. No perfect varieties there, but still delicious. There are still very full grown kale plants among the teensy zucchini. And so it goes.

From a gardening point of view, this actually makes sense. The roots of the new plants are still young and finding their ways. The older roots are not in the way yet, but are instead bringing sugars and essential bacteria up closer to the surface where the young roots are located, making these vital elements more available. Where weeds might grow, I have instead selected the plants that are beneficial to me and which I know are easy to control when I want to. Inevitably, the deer break through all of the barriers set up and have a meal, grazing their way through my garden. The deer are distracted by the larger, lusher plants and leave the vulnerable, young plants alone.

These days, I am also leaving my children more to their own free will. I am giving them more space to bend and break some of our less important family rules. Instead of no screen time, which is how it was in the past, my son is spending many hours a week building a video game with coding, after he completes homeschooling each day. I have given in to my daughter and I am allowing her to wear leggings as pants to school. (You will never catch me out and about town in yoga pants!) My daughter and her friend of many years walk through the forest to the park, all on their own. My little girl, with her independent spirit, loves to cook. Up until now, this has mostly taken form of imaginative play in the yard, where she can harvest weeds, grab handfuls of soil and mulch, and maybe climb up a tree where she concocts all sorts of recipes to serve up in her restaurant. She hasn't quite outgrown this play, but she is craving reality, too. I am letting her put together extravagant salads and she is even baking on her own. Most of the time I am not available to go through a cookbook with her and painstakingly show her how to precisely measure out all the ingredients. So earlier this week, with a tiny bit of instructional input from me yelled to her from the front porch, and at her father's side while he cooked dinner (also recipe-free) ,she thoughtfully put the ingredients together and made her own version of brownies. This dessert was delicious.

As in my garden, I have put many hours of attention, intention and love into guiding my children to grow into their best selves. I have thought and thought some more. My kids are human, like all of us. They make mistakes and bad choices. They get upset, they hurt other people’s feelings. One of them climbs on the roof when no one is looking and then while up there makes the funniest and sweetest attempt at an educational video that I have ever seen. She admits her transgressions after the fact and I don’t think there is anything she would hide from me forever. Her brother is pretty responsible and methodical but not exactly the most sensitive older brother.

My children have reached ages – eleven and eight – where I believe the mistakes they make form an important component of their development and journey up to adulthood. Like every parent, I hope no mistake will be to dear. It is the greatest wish of mine that none of their misjudgments end in consequences beyond the point of repair or return.

When they were very young, I kept them always close and wore them everywhere in my carrier. They never cried it out to go to sleep. I nursed them and skipped rice cereal and other baby foods altogether. As they grew, there were no special meals made, although we did find ways to hide the eggplant and zucchini. My kids were not allowed videos except when they were sick – I sacrificed my own time and perhaps mental wellbeing, through this decision not to use the screen as a babysitter. Every day, all year around, no matter the weather, they were outdoors. I enforced, more than encouraged, sharing and saying sorry. I tried to enlighten them to body language. I have attempted to teach them how to speak to others. Truly exhausting work. Upon rethinking my choices and strategies, there is much that I would do differently. Like my kids, I am only human. However, I can’t go back. I can only go forward. And I think I have done okay.

For now, I am backing off and putting my faith into the foundations we have laid down together. I hope their moral compasses and senses of compassion are refined enough that they will not cause too much pain as they build friendships out of my sight. I trust that they will make a lot of great choices. I pray that they have developed enough sound judgement to navigate their ways out of the crises they find themselves in, whether self-made or otherwise.

Parenthood is scary. It is all too easy to cling too tight. To offer too much protection. To angrily demand unfair degrees of greatness. I could wrap up my identity in my children, get caught up in embarrassment when they goof up, or feel ashamed even when they are just comfortably being themselves. We all do this sometimes. Likewise, in the garden, there are always potential disasters lurking around every corner. To give in to worry, to assert immense control with my will, will grant me a life of unease. But the impact will be not only on myself. I would end up with a garden with no pollinators. Not only might I lose the broccoli harvest this year, but I would also poison my soil and sentence myself to an entire life of substandard flavours and textures. I cannot control the weather or the uptick in an insect’s regional existence. I can’t banish every unwanted weed. If those are my goals, I am the loser in the end. I miss out on every beautiful insight and gift my garden has to offer. I am thinking, these days, that the same goes for my children. I will be with them as they grow. They will have blemishes and weaknesses, there will be mistakes, they will have faults. They will experience pain that I cannot kiss away. My compassion will increase. I will love them all the more. And at every stage along the way, I hope to have the wisdom to know when to let them go and let them be.

Wishing you a wonderful week,



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