I was always in awe of people who kept plants and maintained gardens. For the most part of my life, I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy much greenery around me, since my maternal home was a second floor apartment with next to no open space, and my three years in America too were mostly spent in apartments with affordable rent, so out went the option of a lavish garden space. It was only very recently, mostly during my pregnancy, that I just convinced myself to start with a few plants in the balcony. What started as a 1-2 plant project then expanded to 40 over the next 3 years, which is quite commendable, given the limited space in my balconies.
Last year, I also started planting vegetables and since then, we have enjoyed sporadic yields of tomatoes, coriander, mint, lettuce, spinach and a handful of bitter gourd, along with perennial growth of curry leaf trees . My son has picked up the gardening bug from me and has helped me plant seeds add compost occasionally and he waters the plants quite regularly. It fills our hearts with joy when we see the little greens sprouting from the seeds that we sowed, the greens turning into flowers and the flowers into fruits that we finally consume. It is a great bonding activity for the two of us and for me, it has been a great lesson in parenting. Wondering how? Here I am listing the 10 major lessons about parenting (and life) that I have learned from immersing myself in gardening-
Lesson #1 – You have got to start from somewhere – I kept procrastinating the idea of gardening for a long time – lack of space, lack of daily commitment, lack of knowledge- you name it. I always had a reason to not get into it, yet I also always had the yearning in my heart to create a greener, more soothing environment around me. I can’t truly remember what pushed me to buy that first plant, but then I did and I was unstoppable after that. Even with our kids, we often stumble to take up a new initiative, do something out of the box because of the fear of failure or rejection, even if our hearts desire a better ecosystem. Whether it is a parent of a toddler, a kid or a teenager, we tend to feel hesitant to take the first step to change the status quo. Don’t. Every effort is a step toward someplace and parenting is a journey of a lot of experimentation. You try something and see if it works for you and your child. It’s as simple as that. No parenting expert knows your equation better than you. So go ahead and start what you want to – it could be a small wake-up routine with your child, or a commitment to put your phone away immediately when the child calls out for you, or even a 10 minute daily bonding activity with your child.
Lesson #2 – Nurturing is a daily commitment– Nurturing for plants and nurturing a child is a daily commitment. It is a tedious, time-consuming and a painfully slow process, but that is the way it is. Just like we can’t raise a plant on irregular nourishment, the same way, a child’s physical, emotional and mental nourishment cannot (rather should not) be left unattended, even for a single day. The brief period of a person’s life that is childhood is the bedrock of their future personality and how they will impact the world around them. So even if it seems like a hell of chore, try and make that extra effort every single day. As a parent, it can be highly draining on your energy and time, but it is worth the effort. So, beat that lethargy and whip up a quick snack instead of feeding yourself and the kids junk, whenever possible. Make that effort to ask them about their day in school and be genuinely interested. Open up their little eyes to the wonders of this world, to books and plants and clouds and mountains and let them soak up the vastness around them.
Lesson #3 – Patience is a virtue– Think of a beautiful garden, with pretty flowers and blossoming trees. Do you think that is how it looked at the start? Not even close. Someone prepared the soil, added nourishing compost, planted seeds, watered them daily for months, maybe. He had to have a mix of imagination and faith to keep him going and to endure the daily toil. Just like that, a parent has to have a mix of knowledge, wonder, patience and faith to be able to hold on to certain daily practices that would hopefully leave a positive impact on their growing child. Results won’t be immediate for the most part, and there will be many reasons to give up mid-way. But then, one of the most important roles of a parent is to overcome their own emotional hurdles to continue doing what feels right in the larger scheme of things.
Lesson #4- Caring should not be outsourced permanently– This can be a rather sensitive topic for parents who, due to time and other resource constraints, have had to send their young ones to day care or even to a grandparent or relative’s care. While each person makes their parenting decision based on their unique circumstances, there are some basics of emotional development that remain common to all children, regardless of social, financial, geographical differences. All children look for attachment with a primary caregiver and are likely to be the most relaxed, stress-free and happy in their company. Putting a young child in the care of an institution where caregivers might leave, may not have the ability to be involved or may even be fired often will leave the child exposed to newer faces often, hence preventing them from forming a lasting bond with any. Similarly, the care and concern of grand-parents is almost always very high, but it still may not be adequate in comparison to what the parents can provide, unless the parents are suffering immensely in some aspect. I have seen that with my plants as well, I always intuitively have a sense of what they might need and that they remain healthier when I am giving them daily attention. I feel the key word here is daily attention (qualitative and quantitative) and not just the number of hours spent being in the same space in a day.
Lesson #5 – If you stick with the value system, the returns can be unimaginable– Honestly, there are a million ways to parent, or care for a child. In fact, every parent will have a unique way of parenting, coming from their unique value system. Similarly, there are many ways to go about nurturing a garden – using commercial seeds, pesticides, fertilizers or working towards a more holistic approach of composting, using home-made pesticides, planting organic seeds etc. I am part of a wonderful gardening group that never ceases to amaze me in terms of people’s commitment to their beloved greens.They go through great pains in their commitment to growing their own food, nurturing their plants as family members, and sticking with their belief in a better world through the benefits of gardening and farming. I am also part of many parenting groups where each and every day, I get to learn something new and fabulous to experiment in my own journey. So, I adapt. But I keep the basic principals and values consistent – healthy eating is a non-negotiable, avoiding junk is a non-negotiable, talking and sharing our feelings is an expectation, sitting on the table with everyone while eating, without any distraction is an expectation. There are many questions and comments from people around, but I have truly seen the benefits of sticking to my value system and seeing those being adopted by my child very well.
Lesson #6 – The joy is in the journey – Life always seems to gravitate towards future – future planning, future growth, future benefits, but we need to remember that the present moment is as precious as any other we may get to experience. That right now, wherever we are at in our journey, we must acknowledge, appreciate and pause to soak it in. Every morning, when I open the door to my balcony, I am blessed with greenery around me. I take a few moments to breathe in that space, to touch the plants, check on them and just be with them. The same way, our time with our children needn’t always be filled with activities in the present for achieving some larger future goal (like making them an Olympic level swimmer or a Grandmaster at Chess). Simply laying with them, looking in their eyes, rubbing our hands against theirs or watching them play are ways to connect and soften our relationship with them. These are the moments that have the potential of becoming lasting memories, of times that you and your child will cherish and reminisce and they are totally worth experiencing NOW.
Lesson #7 – Routines are boring but necessary – Parenting and gardening are both time-consuming and full of routines – doing certain chores every single day, repetition and reinforcement which may take a toll on the caregiver. You need to be mindful of schedules, undertake tasks systematically and basically, always be alert, lest you drop the ball. But over time, I realised that routines can’t (rather shouldn’t) be avoided. They give pace and structure to our lives and our routines ultimately define our basic value foundation. Everything else that we do is an embellishment on that. For instance, someone who is always on time will by nature be punctual and good at planning their time. He/She may be following certain routines to be always punctual but those are what give him/her the ability to deliver every single time. Similarly, for a parent, the routines of bed-times, eating rituals, play time and so forth may seem daunting, but they help build a discipline in both parent and child which they jointly learn to follow and respect. Of course, having said that, we must always leave scope for spontaneity, cheat-days and lots of fun time in between.
Lesson #8 – When you nurture, there are 2 people growing, not one- Conscious parenting and gardening are a win-win commitment for both the care-giver and the care-receiver. The parent (or gardener) gets to explore their nurturing personality, learn to trust their instinct and learn to take bold decisions in a field they may not know much about. While the child (or plant) benefits from the nourishment from their caregiver, the caregiver in turn, discovers many other aspects of their self through the journey of nurturing another. There are immense benefits of immersing oneself consciously in these activities to gain as much as you are giving. For those who don’t want kids or for some reason, can’t have kids, gardening can be an immensely satisfying experience and may even motivate one to become more caring and responsible for those around them.
Lesson #9 – Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, despite your sincere inputs– The one major issue that parents and gardeners often experience is the attachment to results – the expectation for certain outcome and the investment of a lot of energy and other resources for a desired end. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out that way. A parent must realise that there are many factors that contribute to the growth of a child, many of which are not in their control – the community that they live in, the environment that the child is exposed to and even the innate abilities and wishes of the child. Similarly, the growth of a plant has many aspects to it – the strength and readiness of the seed, the space available to expand its roots, the environmental conditions and so forth. So, despite putting all the effort, they may not yield what we hoped they would. At least, for me, gardening taught me to take a few things in my stride and simply shrug and say, oh well. At times, that is the best course of action for prevention from a heart break.
Lesson #10 – They all grow just like they should – Every time I plant a seed, I tell myself that it has a purpose and that it will surely fulfil it. Just like that, our kids are in this world to fulfil their unique purpose, and they will. A parent must have that faith and keep trusting it every single day. “They all grow just like they should” is a mantra that we can use to continue trusting our kids and to stop being too harsh on ourselves for everything our children do or don’t do. While all efforts still need to be made, this mantra can give us and attitude of acceptance and even gratitude for our children’s uniqueness.