The parent … as a gardener ?

Tuesday 26 July 2022

Gracious me gardeners, I need your help!

About 6 weeks ago, a pupil bought me this beautiful rose, accompanied by an utterly delightful card.

It’s called Lovely Lady,” she beamed, “because you are a lovely lady!”

Well, look what has happened to the poor thing since I brought it home and planted it in the garden!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is garden-2-2.jpg

Help! What to do? I’ve watered. I’ve fed. I’ve sprayed. But the once-lovely lady continues to droop. Every morning and every night, I have to face that desperate, bowed stem and … I feel dreadful.

Is the rose simply a reflection of me?‘ I ponder in a mad moment, ‘devoid of all energy and drive and just dragging myself towards the end of term?’

Or.. am I just a hopeless gardener?

Probably the latter, which would not be so bad, but for the fact that, in a similar vein to my pupil, several writers find strong parallels between gardening and parenting.

Children’s author, Katherine Halligan, in her post Why Parenting Why is a Lot Like Gardening, describes her transition into life with a family as follows,

As I gave up all notion of control and surrendered to the (happy!) chaos, I discovered I had probably been wrong all along. Nature has its own agenda, just like children do. And children, like plants, tend to thrive in spite of everything I do wrong.

Much, as ‘Lovely Lady’ is clearly not in the thriving category at the moment, I do enjoy the rest of Katherine’s article. The notion of learning on the job and just ‘jumping in at the deep end’ make pretty reassuring reading for any parent (or gardener.)

Mostly I simply muddle along, going on instinct, hoping that weather and circumstance will favour my wild guesses …”

And it is a version of the idea of working with, rather than trying to control the complexities of life, that highlights the parent’s role as a gardener for child psychologist Alison Gopnik in, The Gardener and the Carpenter. Which kind of parent are you? she challenges us to consider, gardener or carpenter?

The “carpenter” thinks that his or her child can be moulded. “The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child ….”

‘The “gardener,” on the other hand, is less concerned about controlling who the child will become and instead provides a protected space to explore…”

Which one are you? Which one am I?

I decide that I am probably a mix of both and my kids agree. I quite like the idea of the gardener and the carpenter but find them more useful for describing behaviours than people. Hence in some situations, I approach things as a ‘moulder’ and in others, as a supportive of the ‘explorer’. Hey it is an analogy after all. At least I hope so, because if not, given my lack of skill in either domain, things don’t look too rosy for my offspring!

Interesting as the reading is, parenting is not my problem on this occasion… gardening is. And none of this solves the dilemma of wilting ‘Lovely Lady’. As far as I can see, my only options now are, pruning, supporting with bamboo and … a miracle?

Meanwhile, all suggestions welcome!

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