I’m reading another amazing parenting book. I’m not even up to Chapter One yet. That’s how good it is, I’m still reading the introduction, and I’m highlighting like mad and writing notes in the margins.
The book is The Gardner and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik. I can’t even remember for sure how I got onto this book. I think I went on Amazon to order Between Parent and Child, (the most absolutely awesome parenting book I’ve ever read), and down the bottom under the heading “Other books you might like” this book was listed.
The thing is, a few months ago, the fabulous Alexsandra Burt (who I call my Continuum Concept Coach) and I were toying with the idea of writing a “Continuum Concept in the Modern World” book. We started off by really drilling down on adversarial relationships. For some reason, the parent-child relationship seems to be fraught with adversarial attitudes – first on the part of the parent “Why can’t I get my child to sleep/stop breast feeding/not suck their thumb” etc. And then, on the part of the child ,“No! I don’t want those scrambled eggs!!”
I had asked her, “When did we first become adversarial?” Because in the continuum, there’s cooperation uber alles. And in nature there is so much more cooperation than competition, but what we focus on (at this period in human history) is the competition, aka adversarial relationships. So, before our continuum got screwed up – we assume that we were all about cooperation. What changed that? I asked. And her immediate response was, “Agriculture.” When we moved from a subsistence lifestyle to a cultivation lifestyle, we were in competition with the weather. We wanted the weather to do xyz for our crops to survive, so we survive. Prior to this (in theory) we were much more “Oh, it’s raining!” and then moving on. In fact, in another part of my writing life, I have been researching Te Ao Māori, and learned that they have a proverb:
He ua kit e pō, he paewai kit e ao.
Rain in the evening, eels in the morning.
in other words, there is always a silver lining. In other words, continuum living.
So, after this conversation with Alexsandra, my eyes were primed for the title of this book, and I read the blurb, and thought, OK, I’ll get that one too.
And this is what I’ve loved so far. I’m going to paraphrase here.
To be: I am, you are, she/he is, they are etc.
We are comfortable saying I am a wife/husband/partner, I am a daughter/son, I am a sister/brother, but we somehow are uncomfortable with the “being” part of being a parent. To be a parent, has become parenting. We’ve made it into a verb. We haven’t verb-ed wifing, husbanding, sistering, brothering etc. You get it, right?
A parent has become something you do.
Which, on the surface might just seem like semantics. But bear with me.
Probably about six months ago our family delved into the world of composting. Like a good little unschooling family, we went to the library and got out some books on the topic. One of them, the name of which I never recorded (sorry) said, there are two types of gardener: the type that gardens for the flowers, or the fruits or the veggies (ie, the outcome), and the type who gardens for the soil (ie, the experience of creating the environment). Be the second type.
Gardening for the soil means putting in all the unseen, back breaking, poo shovelling hours, and foremost, making compost. It means making habitats for all the good bugs to thrive, and other stuff that good soil has. It means you’re getting enjoyment out of the creation, without really focusing on the outcome. Which reminds me of this absolutely amazing stick-in-my-head blog post from Ben Hewitt.
And that gardening-for-the-soil is the analogy that this book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, uses for being a parent (so far, again, I haven’t even hit Chapter One yet!) Be a parent like a gardener who gardens for soil health. Create the conditions, the environment, the support, the nutrients, the space, for children to grow to be whoever they are.
That’s the being of being a parent.
As opposed to the doing of parenting which looks a lot more like Do this, so that you’re child won’t have a tendency towards axe-murdering. Don’t do that, or your child will be unable to maintain meaningful relationships. Do this so that your child won’t get left behind at school.
There is a lot more shaping and “getting your child to” involved in the doing of parenting. Which brings us back to parenting as an adversarial relationship; somehow bending the very being of your child in the hopes that you can have some kind of influence on the outcome. The outcome being a productive, connected, securely attached, able to operate in the world – take your pick – adult.
Alexsandra used to talk to me a lot about being “on the same team” as my children. I don’t know how many hours I spent on Skype with her, trying to get to the bottom of my, often extreme, irritation with my children. Somehow I’d turned into this fractious, annoyed, grumpy, unstable Mama. I hated it. Ok, let’s not act like I’m cured. I hate it, present tense. It’s still something I grapple with. And Alexsandra tried a few different ways to get me to see what was going on – one of them was talking about adversarial relationships. But, I was still grumpy, I was still not being the parent I wanted to be, that I knew my children needed me to be. So, I did what I always do – I quested for the answer – hence my addiction to parenting books.
And, with Between Parent and Child, and The Gardener and the Carpenter, I feel like I’m getting close to the answer. I feel like all those things that Alexsandra was trying to get me to see have primed me for seeing what these books have to offer.
I’m close, but I still wrote to a friend yesterday who asked me how I was:
“Grouchy. And trying not to be.”