Monday, September 27, 2010

Building resilience (in plants and kids)

Spending a lot of time in the sun does funny things to a girl. Take Saturday, for instance. I decided that it was time to stop talking about doing useful things in my vegie patch and actually do them. So Mr3 and I pulled on our wellie boots - as an aside, mine are new, brown with tweed and very stylish (imagine horsey, but without the horse) - and set forth with small spades in hand.

First, we attacked the cauliflowers. And when I say attacked, I mean hauled those suckers out of there. They were all leaf, no cauli. Not even a flower. I'd given them three months. Dumped. Mr3 had a fabulous time digging them out, keeping strictly to the right-hand side of the shallots, as instructed. Meanwhile, I weeded, and weeded, and weeded. Turn your back on a vegie patch for five minutes and the invasion begins.

Later, as I weeded my way through the large garden bed under the camphor laurel, I found myself thinking a little too hard about weeds. About who decided what was a weed and what wasn't. How the weeds always seemed to do better than the nurtured, composted, hot-housed wimps that we'd actually planted. How if we'd just gone with the weeds in the first place I wouldn't be out here in the blazing sun, fork in hand.

To give you an idea of how tired I was, my thoughts went from weeding to parenting. To the hands-on, nurturing, enriching, hot-housing style of parenting that is in vogue at present. Much is written about resilience these days - mostly about how children these days don't have any. They are not left to fend for themselves enough. They are not thrown into situations where they must problem-solve and survive.

I wrote a story a little while ago for (you can read it here) and received some good advice from child psychologist and author Andrew Fuller. "Kids are pretty resilient as long as we don't muck them up by trying to solve every problem for them," he says.

I'm not a natural 'free range' parent. My tendency to overthink everything has every step of my children's day thought out three or four steps ahead. The Builder is an excellent foil to that. He's not a worrier. He's a thinker, a planner, a perfectionist, but not a worrier. He can walk ahead of the boys at the beach, not looking behind, knowing that they'll be okay. I have to walk behind them. Warning them not to go to deep, not to stray too far, not to... have fun.

I worry that I worry too much. I worry that Mr6 worries too much. He's probably worried that I'm worried. Mr3 is too busy going to parties with Alla Hoo Hoo to worry about much at all.

As I worried away at the weeds in my garden, cutting them off in their prime, it occurred to me that there's strength in adversity. Which is not to say that I won't be encouraging the growth of my prize specimens. But I might water a little less, mulch a little more, and spend a little less time in the sun.

No worries.

{image: Pete Dungey}


  1. Good advice there from Andrew Fuller and one that I would do well to take heed of.

    We were sat in a pizza parlour the other day where they give the kids little books to colour and fill in quizzes and one of the questions was 'Would you rather be an adult or a child?'. And my son wrote 'A child. Because you don't have to worry about anything.' I thought that that was as it should be.

    It's a hard balance between the helicopter parenting and the laissez faire but I think we're all trying to find the middle way.

    Happy weeding.

  2. They say that a weed is really just a plant that is growing where you don't want it to be, thereby making it a weed.
    Now I'm trying to relate that to parenting but am only coming up with thoughts of spraying the kids with Zero when they annoy me....

  3. There is strength in adversity, yes. It's an eloquent argument and I've heard it and it makes sense.

    But who would pull the weeds, if not for us mothers? If we did not keep them in check, would they not grow up and strangle the tender young plants we have worked hard to nurture? If we were not meant to tend our gardens, I have to wonder why so many of us were born with green thumbs.

  4. I'm a worrier like you! And I fight the urge to hover and protect at all times. My partner is also far more relaxed, taking Miss2 to galleries, museums and parties and because he doesn't overthink it and plan for the worst, he often gets the best! Plus, his herb garden is booming :)

  5. What a lovely garden you're going to have! Enjoy a beautiful day, Kellie xx

  6. Oh how I wish could be more of a 'free range parent'.. I hover and worry... I hope that I am still breeding resilience though. Great post. Great. A-M xx

  7. We obviously think about similar things when gardening :) I often think about weeds too. And Parenting. I agree with the adversity bit. I'm a worrier too,on the parenting front.Thankfully Mr is more laid back.I don't think I'm a Copter parent though. But I know a few : ) Fab post (as ever) : )

  8. Oh Al, this is a lovely post that resonates with me.

    I am a worrier who has to reign in the desire to have my garden and my littlies "perfect".

    Lovely husband is a laid back optimist whose instinct is to have a happy heathly garden of plants and kids who are comfortable and blooming in their environment.

    I suspect (hope?) that these children, and these gardens, benefit hugely from the combination of traits and skills we offer......

  9. I love that analogy. I started my parenting life as a hoverer, worrier, somewhat helicopter type, but as my marriage dissolved and I had to put myself first for a while my parenting style changed. In hindsight I wish I found that perfect spot in the middle because I may have gone a little bit too hands off at times. It is really hard to find that balance. Given what they have been through I am guessing they have learnt resilience, I can see at times they are as robust as Patterson's Curse, but at other times they are like Tulips and require some very gentle care. My word verification is "Mintsma" - how apt. Mint grows like wildfire and can handle neglect hardy if the conditions are right, but wrong conditions and the mint becomes weak and will die without attention ... maybe MINT is the analogy for my boys?

  10. Hmm but this is where the part of me says "the world today isn't like it was when i was a child". And it isn't.
    The creeps and weirdo's out there are more daring and dangerous. Children are getting kidnapped from their front yards, and from school etc. So could i peacefully let my child play down the street? No.

    However, i am actually pretty ok at sitting back and watching my children do what they must. Especially at home, if i hear crying from out the back i don't go running, i stroll to the window, are both kids moving? Yes. Can i see any blood? No. It's all good then, they will come to me if they need me.
    I want them to know i'm here, but i want them to put into practice all the good stuff i've spent years teaching them.
    When we are out i try to hang back, unless they are destroying someone's property or hurting someone else, or you know forgoing those good manners they seem to embrace at home but in public forget entirely, then i will have a quiet chat to them.

    Of course, this all mostly applies to Master B as Master D is only 18months! lol.
    Most effective parenting tool i have found? Setting the example. Be who you want your children to be. And remind them that helping others just because it's nice is the way to go, because then they will remember it and want to help you when you need it.

  11. Sometimes if you just build the perimeter for protection and allow a "safe" free range environment the new growth flourishes and amazes with its beauty. Oh the possibilities are breathtaking.

  12. Finding balance. The Buddhists call it The Middle Path. I know I have said it before, but another dose of Sarah Napthali may be in order. Her book on School-aged children would be perfect for you right now!

    I like watching my children solve problems on their own (although it can be excruiatingly frustrating too!), but like you I do have a tendency to worry about them too.

    You have some great 'free range parent' models in your new home. Maybe they will help you find the Middle Path.

  13. OH here here, my children are planting our Spring herbs right now, easy school holiday activity. They play in the dirt bare foot (& wash as they are part princess) & i always say "i'd rather you make a not-so-great decision, than no decision at all". This way they can learn, have ownership, solve problems & grow mentally!! S
    o far they have no had one sick day in years - not a cough or runny nose, nothing. Can i mention we live in freezing Canberra?? It's all about healthy living & fun. All 4 have great friends at school & have never been bullied - i'm pertty thrilled they are resiliant. I think i've set them up well for high school, which is about to happen!! Love Posie

  14. As long as you don't prune the kids or rip their roots out of their favourite location without warning, I reckon they'll be fine. If you are worried that you worry too much, doesn't that mean that you'll never really be worrying too much because you're aware of not doing it - does that even make sense?

    But I do agree that letting kids solve their own problems once we've given them a framework and safety - is a very good thing. I especially think this is important in the playground when many of us are tempted to step in and talk to another parent or a teacher before we've helped our children work through a process of solving it one on one with another child.

    I mulched the garden today with Mr 8 so that I don't need to water it too often. If you want to go crazy with the analogies - mulching is a bit like all the advice-giving and modeling we do with our kids so that they can look after themselves eventually as resilient, blooming seedlings - sorry, I'm, not a poet so I will stop right here. Lovely post Allison.

  15. Another overthinker here! *raises hand*
    Same deal too, partner very laid back, relaxed, but still manages to be a great Dad. Maybe we need to take a few parenting tips from our other half once in a while? I've sure spent a lot of time trying to convince him how much there is to worry about having a daughter not even 12 months old yet! Bless him though, he listens and then says "But she has you as her Mum, what could there posibly be to worry about?" x

  16. I loved this post. You sound like me, your husband sounds like mine, and you have also explained the problem we're having with our cauliflowers, too. Can't wait to rip them out!

    I am conscious of helicopter parenting and do like the concept of 'free range' parents. Whether I can be one or not...I'm working on it. If I can find a balance between the two, I'll be happy!

  17. He's proabably worried that you're worried that he's worried...

    Best just to stop worrying. The kids are alright. x

  18. Great post!
    I was thinking about this yesterday.
    For various reasons, I could see myself turning into one of those Crazy Lady mothers whose kids never leave the house. There is so much that could happen out there in the Big Bad World, and I'm sure I have imagined just about every possible scenario.
    But I follow Hubbys' lead, and let them go do what kids do. We watch carefully, but from a little distance.
    And all we can do is hope that the kids turn out OK.


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