Saturday, July 18, 2009

Kinder-gardening: The Gentle Art of Raising Adults. part 2

In this second part of this series, I want to discuss the early, early years of raising adults, those years from birth to preschool when our young ones are newly planted in the greenhouse.

Think for a moment about how seeds are planted in a greenhouse. First there’s the pot – not too big, about the size of an empty eggshell. There isn’t much room in that pot, but it’s also very protected. Not much gets to the seed by way of outside influences - nothing but a controlled amount of sunlight and water.

Next there’s the growing medium. Gardeners quite often use something other than soil for planting seeds. That first growing medium needs to have the right nutrients and moisture retention for the young seedling, but it also works best if it’s sterile. Dirt is… well, dirt – filled with all kinds of bacteria, mold and bugs that are beneficial to the growing plant, but not the new seedling.

And last, there’s the environment. The greenhouse is a controlled environment – controlled sunlight, controlled temperature, controlled moisture. Everything about the seedling’s first home is optimal - not just for its survival, but for its ability to thrive.

Now let’s imagine our young child as that little seedling:

First, what is our child’s “pot” like? In other words, what is their world like? We found that our infants did best in a small pot – their world consisted of home, family, routine. There were occasional, random (in the infant’s mind!) trips in the car to the doctor, to the grocery store, to church, but the main world was home. Mama was always there. They slept in the same bed every day. Diapers were changed, crying calmed, bellies filled, and someone was there with a smile when they were awake.

Somewhere around 2 or 3 years old, our children started to make friends outside our family circle. The boy at church or the girl next door became friends. Their world was enlarging – just like gardeners will put a growing seedling into a larger pot – but they were still living in their controlled environment. Home was still the main focus of their lives.

During these years they learned to play with others, first under my watchful eye (after all, play dates are for moms too!), and then as they reached 4 or 5 years old, alone at a friend’s house under that trusted mom’s watchful eye. That was the beginning of the hardening off process – akin to propping the roof of the cold frame open on warm days.

It’s at this point in our children’s lives that we deviate from the norm. Most children go straight into the garden at this point – and yes, most survive and are fine. In the “Greenhouse Method”, there is no thought that “fine” is adequate for these young souls. There are many years ahead of hardening off before these seedlings are ready to thrive in the garden….and that’s the subject of my next posting.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Kinder-gardening: The Gentle Art of Raising Adults

Parenting is an adventure, it’s a quest, it’s a great undertaking - and most of us face those first few days scared out of our wits. Very few of us feel well prepared and equipped when we become parents for the first time! My dear husband remembers that first day home from the hospital with our oldest – “They just let us take him home. What were they thinking?”

But parenting is also a calling – whether our children come to us through birth, adoption or less desirable circumstances (like friends of mine who are raising their grandchildren), we are called by God to this task. Answering the call to the best of our ability is our duty – to neglect it is unthinkable.

In the last 25 years, I’ve developed a theory of child rearing. I call it “The Green House Method of Raising Adults”. What gives me the confidence to share it with you now is that space of 25 years – I’ve had time to not only develop the method, but to watch it play out in four young lives and to see the results as we reach the end of our child rearing years. The whole idea is that raising adults is much like raising plants in a garden – thus the title of this blog entry.

But before we go on, I have to clarify what I mean by “raising adults.” One thing that my husband and I have had foremost in our thoughts for the last 25 years is that when you discuss raising something, you talk about the end product. We raise lettuce, or tomatoes. When we plant seeds we speak of planting radishes, not little round pebbles. We’ve always had the end results of our labors in mind – not old children, but responsible, mature adults.

The “Green House Method” takes what I’ve observed and practiced in gardening and applies it to children. When you raise tender plants, like tomatoes, from seed, the last thing you want to do is to place those seeds directly into the garden. You plant them inside, nurture the little plants, slowly “harden them off” so they can survive in the larger garden, and then finally transplant them in the garden. But even after all that, you don’t abandon them – you cover them if frost threatens, you water them on dry days, you remove invasive weeds, and you carefully watch and celebrate their progress.

When you raise tender human souls, you go through the same process. My next three blog entries will elaborate on the process – I hope you will enjoy reading through the entire series!