A long time ago, at least before I was even thinking about having children of my own, I heard a great illustration on raising children. Now that I have a daughter and a son on the way I have been thinking a lot about the wisdom and insight of this illustration. I don’t remember where I heard it so I hope I’m not stealing some body’s unique and patented analogy.
Raising children is like planting a crop, or for me since I can relate better, planting a garden. During certain seasons there are appropriate actions to be taken. The first phase, done in late winter and early spring, is ground preparation. The weeds must be removed, the ground tilled up and softened, and the necessary fertilizer and nutrients added if the soil is lacking. This can be related to the early training we do with our kids, the phase I’m currently in. There’s lots of action/consequences lessons, lots of no’s said, and sometimes it’s exhausting. Some days there’s very little reward, just lots of hard work. There are days when I long for my daughter to just say, “Yes, Mama.” when I want her to, to just go potty on the toilet, and to just be willing to share her toys without a fight. I know (hope) that we will get there someday, but for now I feel like I’m doing lots of pulling of the weeds of selfishness and disobedience. There is also the ground softening and preparation. This is all the quality time we spend snuggled up together, all the cheers I give her when she demonstrates a talent or good attitude. It is also saying and demonstrating that I love her, and praying for her. Her mind and spirit must be confident in the love her mommy and daddy have for her and in who she was created to be so that when the weeds are pulled up from her life it doesn’t damage the her personality or confidence.
The next phase of gardening is one of my favorites, the planting. This is done with excitement and care since the way we plant determines our crop. There is lots of room to dream and hope in this phase and while it’s hard work, bending over or crawling in the dirt on your hands and knees, the hope that goes into the ground with each little seed makes it all seem like child’s play. In a child’s life this is what we as parents are constantly doing by the way we train, the way we live our lives, and the lessons we verbally and non-verbally communicate to our kids. The best time to plant is when the soil is soft and well fertilized, so it makes sense that the most planting we will do is when our kids are young. The outside conditions also must be just right so that our little seedlings won’t freeze at night or wither in the mid-day sun. In the same way we, as parents, must determine which seeds our children are ready for and which ones must wait a while. I would never dream of trying to teach my toddler about sexual purity, she’s way to young for that seed. She is, however, ready to learn about honesty, trust, and generosity-all in toddler terms, of course. These little lessons will develop into bigger lessons as she grows. I believe that teaching a toddler to share her toys can directly turn into teaching a young child to give of what she has to others in need.
Another delight in the planting phase is deciding what you want in your garden. Some of this is determined for us, based on where we live, our soil type, and some of it is left up to us and how adventurous we are (I love trying out new vegetables like soybeans in my garden). In the same way there are some seeds that are already determined in our children. I may wish that one of my children becomes a concert pianist, but if the love for music and desire is not in that child, I cannot make it happen and planting those seeds year after year can not only be a frustrating experience, it can also be a waste of resources. That child may instead have an incredible gift with organizing or leadership. It is important to find seeds that will grow well in that soil.
There are always the basic and essentials we all want planted in our garden, like carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes–our children will seem incomplete if we don’t plant love, selflessness, obedience, trust, and compassion in them. After that however it’s so fun to dream about what our children will become, where their talents and interests will lie and what we get to expose them to. For example, we regularly expose our daughter to outdoor adventures because that’s what my husband and I love. We go camping, back packing, rock climbing, and boating often and I love that this is a normal part of our daughter’s life. My hope is that as an adult she will love being outdoors and be careful with our precious resources and environment. While I cannot make these seeds grow, I can plant them and hope that they will be nurtured by memorable experience and her parents’ example. You may be planting seeds of good study habits and a love for reading by regularly reading aloud to your little ones and allowing them to see you enjoy a good book. Your relationship with your spouse is another seed that is being planted in your little ones. They way they watch you two relate and love each other will grow into a thought pattern about relationships in their minds. This is a great motiviation to make sure your relationship with your spouse is healthy and happy.
Stay posted for the next two phases, watering & weeding, and harvesting.