Want a Simple Parenting Strategy? Tend the Garden
Do you approach parenting more like a gardener or a carpenter?
This question is one asked by Alison Gopnick, the author and psychologist behind the book “The Gardener and the Carpenter – What the New Science of Child Development Tells us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children”. It’s a long title for a very interesting book.
In “The Gardener and the Carpenter”, Gopnik argues against the modern definition of “parenting” and its classification as a verb. She encourages parents to find their own more neutral approach to the parts they play in the lives and development of their children. She wants parenting to be pursuit-free.
Gopnik argues that the modern ideal parent is like being a carpenter. Both carpenters and modern parents work hard to intentionally create something that is just to their specifications. Parenting seems to have a promise to it that, with the right expertise and techniques, parents can take any child and mold them into the perfect child, creating a perfect life for that child.
Of course, these aims and ideals are neither natural nor realistic. Gopnik argues that taking this approach, and trying to structure a perfect life, makes things worse for parents and children, rather than making them better. This is a truism in business as well. According to Marketing Manager Albert Mitchell at doTERRA, “Working in a large, multi-national company comes with things like trying to structure the perfect culture, and forcing things to happen a certain way. But you quickly learn that those ideals are neither natural or realistic, and that real company growth comes from promoting others’ unique abilities in their own time.”
Gopnik argues that parents should behave less like carpenters and more like gardeners. They need to “care” for the children out of love rather than out of work. Gardeners provide their plants with just the right environment to help them grow and thrive on their own, which is what more parents need to be doing.
Gopnik says that the main purpose of loving children is to provide them with a rich and safe environment they can grow up. An environment that fosters innovation, variation, and novelty. Raising a child and loving them shouldn’t be about giving them a destination they need to work towards. It should be about giving them the sustenance they need to make it through the journey.
If you as a parent take the approach of fostering the current environment, rather than trying to create the future, then you’ll feel all those pressures of being a parent start to ebb away. It makes parenting feel softer, natural, and more nurturing. It sounds obvious when you think about it too. Of course children are going to thrive more if their parents focus less on creating, and more on tending and letting them grow and develop.
The book itself delves rather deeply into this parental hypothesis. It delves so deeply that it could go a little too far for many parents. But parents who enjoy some scientific language (and can understand it) are sure to get a kick out of this parenting book.
Despite the sometimes-confusing method of delivery, the thesis itself is lovely and timely. It’s something that every parent should think about in every aspect of being a parent. Whether it be how you keep your home, to the educational decisions you make, or the food you give your children, or the books kept on the shelves, or the technology and media you allow your children to be exposed to, or how much time you dedicate to spending time with your friends and family, or the cultures and beliefs you expose the children to, or the travels and journeys you take, or the rituals and habits that you have, and so much more. All of these are just parts of the garden, the environment, in which your children will live. It’s all going to affect the way they grow and develop.
Even though we’ve all decided to tackle specific goals thanks to the turn of the new year, perhaps this is the year that we just tend our gardens instead. We should all just take a little time to create the right environment and let things grow and prosper how they should, in their own ways.