Crop Tender or Parent? You Decide

By Michal Lloyd

“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.”

– Alice Walker

That quote by Alice Walker hung on a sign at a greenhouse where I worked. I come from gardening and farming family. My mother still gardens until her hands ache. Farming is in the dirt and our genes as Idahoans. Farmers and gardeners feed us and give us beauty. But if you look closely, they also give us some valuable tools to teach us about raising our kids, not just crops.

Our kids are tiny bits of us, but they are also uniquely themselves. We provide them everything they need to grow, but you are bound to witness some wonders when those flowers eventually bloom in the spring.

Watching a child grow and develop is a fantastic thing to behold, especially when they become adolescents because their brains are changing. And for the first time, they explore who they want to become. They suddenly have a higher desire to take risks, and they struggle when processing complex decisions.

In many ways, teenagers appear to be superhuman. Almost full-grown, they are nimble, limber, and fast. Their response times in most situations are more rapid than adults. They haven’t built up callouses that we have as we age. Most athletes are young, and even though Tom Brady kept excelling into his forties, my guess is he leaned less on his physical stamina and more on his brain. So we can overestimate what an adolescent can handle, especially during this time of rapid brain development.

If we take what we learn from farming and apply it to parenting, there are some things you can do to help your adolescent grow. Many of which are harder on the parents than the teenager.

Every crop has a specific set of needs that benefit it. For example, you can’t grow a palm tree in Idaho. That is why crop management includes controlling the environment. An environment that provides stress to stretch the plant but protects the little sapling is perfect. Adolescents need challenges, but they also need time to make mistakes and learn from them. A parent or a crop tender can’t take on all the struggles for their crops, or they will prevent them from developing the skills and strength they will need when they reach adulthood.

Providing a healthy home environment with structure and routine and clear expectations is a great start. Farmers are famous for watching the weather and checking the soil. A good farmer is a great observer. If the weather predicts a freeze, a farmer will wake up in the dead of night to water the field or cover the crop to protect it from a hard freeze.

A plant or a child becomes distressed when stress exceeds the plant’s or the child’s capacity. That is why in the spring in the greenhouse, we would “harden-off” the plants that had spent their winter in the cozy geothermal greenhouse by rolling up the walls and allowing the wind and the sun to meet the tender tiny plants. Too much sun and their leaves would burn, not enough, and they would never be strong enough to stand on their own.

Farming and parenting take more patience and are more critical than most jobs in this world. The work you do in your garden and your family is to the benefit of all of us. Thank you for what you do.

Want to learn more? Check out the resources below.