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What Gardening Taught Me About Parenting

Gardening, especially vegetable gardening, is something I really enjoy. The cycle of seasons, the hopeful planting, the watchful tending, and the delicious harvesting reflects what I place my hope in: though we die and go into the ground like seeds, one day we will rise to new, gloriously transformed life.

While it sounds really simple, it turns out, that gardening takes skill and learning. And it has many parallels to raising children.

It is the end of spring where I live, a time to set out seeds and young plants for the long summer ahead. Whether you plants seeds or plants depends on the plant itself. Some plants do not survive being transplanted — you must sow them directly into the ground where you want them to grow. Others do not survive unless you start them indoors and grow them strong before moving them outside.

All plants started indoors require “hardening off.” This is a process of exposing them to the outdoors in gradually-increasing time increments. Skip this step and you will kill the tender plants from the shock of moving from the climate-controlled indoors to the wild outdoors. They must adjust to blowing wind, beating sun, pouring rain, and varying temperatures.

Children are very similar.

Some children are weeds, growing strong and healthy no matter how difficult their circumstances. Sow them outdoors in early spring when frost still bites, dig them up and move them, bake them in dry sun, they withstand it all. We parents often struggle to shape and direct, but this child can succeed where others fail and withstand what would destroy others. But kept in a greenhouse, they are untameable.

Other children need sheltering greenhouse to grow strong. They need the stability of a controlled environment until they reach a more mature stage.

The children whose parents skip hardening-off or keep them in the greenhouse too long grow into weak, naive, utterly unprepared adults. The harsh realities of adult life shock them off their foundations. Many are unable to see the bitter and life-destroying poison beneath the temptations the world offers, most of which they were completely unaware of before. They spend a terrifying number of years (or even their entire lives) dabbling in these temptations and reaping the devastating consequences. Or they refuse to leave the greenhouse at all, staying safe and cozy and never obeying God’s command to go into the world and preach the good news.

The ones who make the transition from greenhouse to outdoors smoothly have parents who navigate the hardening-off period well. After spending an appropriate time in the greenhouse, they begin to transition to the world, spending increasingly more and more time out there, practicing discernment, observing the mistakes of others, and making their own from a place of relative safety.

Each child is unique, so identifying their strengths and weaknesses is one of parenting’s biggest challenges. We are watching each of our children for signs of either increased susceptibility to influence or great resistance to influence. One may need to grow in a greenhouse for awhile. One may grow strongest direct-sown. We pray we don’t skip any essential steps along the way as we work to teach them to see through lies, anticipate consequences, and think through arguments to find their strengths and their flaws.

I know how tempting it is to keep my children in the greenhouse. But God doesn’t call us to safe lives. God’s highest value is not our comfort. Instead, he sends us INTO the world as his hands and feet, asking that we be willing to sacrifice everything for his highest value: sharing his glory with everyone. Every. One. In light of this, we must prepare our children to live unsafe, uncomfortable, sacrificial lives, to work hard, to love the unlovely, to value what God values and not what everyone around us values.

What do you think? How are you preparing your children for life out there? What values are you teaching them: comfort and safety, or sacrifice and service? If your children are grown, how did you prepare them for adulthood? How did you determine which environment was best for each one?

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