Exercising Patience: What Gardening and Parenting Have in Common
Spring has arrived on the calendar, if not in my backyard in Maine. With the longer days and slowly increasing temperatures, my thoughts often turn to for outdoor projects. I plan out my vegetable garden, uncover my flower beds, and wait for signs of growth.
Sometimes, this seems to be an interminable waiting game, requiring a lot of patience. After the long, cold, snowy winter we endured, I am impatient with the mountainous snowbanks still lingering in my yard. I am constantly looking at the trees, almost willing the first leaf buds to appear on the limbs. When a patch of snow melts away, I find myself slightly disappointed when the grass underneath is still brown and the earth still crunchy with frost heaves.
Then, almost like magic every year, drastic changes begin out of the blue. The snowbanks just disappear one day while I’m not looking. The trees suddenly look like they have a hazy halo of color around them as leaves start to burst through. Crocus and daffodil shoots start to appear from the ground. The grass becomes green, and it’s time to drag out the lawnmower once again.
I speak with a lot of parents on Empowering Parents’ parent coaching service who are also impatient, waiting for change to happen with their child. They have been through a long, cold winter with their child (so to speak) and are ready to see the new growth happen. Here are some things to keep in mind if this is where you are as a parent:
Change happens on its own timeline. Just because I want the weather to be warm and my plants to grow doesn’t mean it’s going to happen right away. In a similar vein, your child isn’t going to change simply because you want him to, and his readiness isn’t something that you can control. There are things you can do to hasten that process along, though. You might start to develop a culture of accountability in your home and begin implementing effective consequences for your child’s choices so he is uncomfortable with his current actions. It’s important to remember that just because the change isn’t happening in your timeframe, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.
Look for change with a longer lens. A few years ago, I took a cutting of a weeping willow tree and started the process of rooting it in my backyard. It was my first time rooting a tree from a branch cutting, and I was so excited to see if it was working that I went out to check on it every night after dinner. Every night, it looked the same as it did the night before. I started to become discouraged and filled with doubt. Was I doing this wrong? Had I damaged the branch? Should I have taken a different cutting? Was it getting too much sun? Or not enough? Had I killed it? In the meantime, life happened and I wasn’t able to check on its progress for a week. The next time I checked, I was rewarded with the sight of three tiny new leaves appearing on my branch.
The same phenomenon can occur in parenting. When we try something new with our kids, it can be disappointing when they respond in the same way—refusing to do chores or homework, becoming defiant, or giving us the silent treatment. When we look for change in a very small increment, it can be hard to see and we can quickly fall into self-doubt. Sometimes, it can be useful to take a long view so we can truly see progress. Instead of comparing how your child was acting today versus yesterday, think about how she was today compared with last week, last month, or even last year. That is more likely to give you an accurate picture of change.
Have the right tools on hand. In gardening, it’s important to have the right tool for the job; otherwise you might be creating a lot of extra work for yourself, if you are even able to get the job done at all. You wouldn’t want to dig a hole with a rake, and you shouldn’t use a lawnmower to weed your flower garden (although my partner didn’t heed that last piece of advice—that’s a post for another time!). Likewise, make sure that you have the tools you need to encourage change in your family. The fact that you’re here, willing to seek and receive information, is a good sign! Start to build your “parenting toolbox.” If you need more support to make the changes you seek, reach out and let others know what you need. It might be finding a friend that you can call during a tough time, getting a self-care plan in place, or locating other structured supports in your community, such as a counselor or support group.
Finally, don’t discount the importance of taking that first step. A plant doesn’t grow without sowing the seed. In parenting, there is a tremendous amount of power in the ability to recognize that something isn’t working and guiding your family toward improvement and change.
What changes are you working toward as a family? Let me know in the comments below!