Our children need gardeners not gods.
As parents, it’s our fundamental responsibility to recognize that our young children see us as gods.
This declaration unnerves me.
My three children are under under 10. In their eyes I’m a flawless, precise, all-powerful, all-knowing god. I am the law. The 10 commandments of suburbia. My words are gospel. And when I shake my fork and decree my doctrines at the dinner table, like good little disciples, they stop chewing, listen, and follow.
In my children’s eyes I am the strongest man in the world. The most intelligent man in the world. I am cool. Always in style. Funny, heroic, and brave. I am not aging. And I will not die.
I am god.
I recently had a moment of sheer parental panic.
10 years into this parenting thing and it finally hit me, “Holy shit, my children are absorbing everything I say and do. And my words and actions will serve as the blueprints for their own life.”
That’s power. That’s terror.
I had a great childhood. My parents were, and still are, generous, honest, supportive, hard-working and loving parents. And I’ve come to recognize that it was upbringing that ultimately prepared me for battling with my health issues.
However, I want to tell you about this one lie that my mother told and told me. A lie that I believed long into my life. A lie that I’ll never forget.
Mom and I would frequent a Chinese restaurant around the corner from our little Philadelphia row home.
Mom told me that soda didn’t exist in China and the Chinese only drank water. Which I believed. So I ordered water–for years.
So I accepted this little lie as fact. There was simply no soda in China. Mom said so. Mom was god.
I hung on to this lie for an embarrassingly long time. I don’t remember the exact age when I learned the truth, but I was old enough to go and eat at a Chinese restaurant without adult supervision.
Understand, the lie did not psychologically scar me. I have forgiven mom and we’ve moved on. However harmless, it does prove the almighty power of the parent.
When I finally confronted mom she laughed and told me that soda will rot my teeth.
Maybe we act like gods with our children to satisfy some primal urge to protect them from all harm. So we lie, blame others, and prescribe our children crutches to preserve their immediate health yet by doing so we prevent them from learning to walk on their own.
Be a gardener.
To use a metaphor–Children are seeds and parents are gardeners. In order for seeds to grow the gardener is responsible for providing the right nutrients: proper light, fertile soil, water.
The gardener must be vigilant, till the soil, and fend off rabbits.
A gardener must cultivate an environment which inspires the seed to take root. A good gardener is patient and diligent and needs to handle the seed with care.
No matter how sweet the fruit or colorful the flower, if the seed does not grow proper roots it will die. It’s the roots that will anchor the plant, save the plant, when the winds blow heavy and hard.
Children need roots. And deep roots will only grow if the child properly cared for.
Material gifts, ignorance, cynicism, meanness will not sprout roots.
Deep roots take time to grow.
The roots of honesty, understanding, hard work, compassion, interdependence, and love take years, a childhood, to branch deep in the soil, so when the child becomes a man and learns hard truths–truths like their brain is degenerative or like there is Coca-cola in China they’re not knocked over, ripped from the soil, and blown listlessly about the earth.