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Are you a carpenter or a gardener?

“How to grow results. Obviously it is not with rough hands, obviously with good gentle hands” (Yemima Avital)

Alison Gopnik makes a distinction between two mindsets in parenting: the carpenter and the gardener. The carpenter assumes that children can be molded into the “right kind of adult”. It is the belief that parents, with the help of good skills and techniques, can significantly influence how their child turns out. The child that they had in mind.

The gardener sees their role as providing the best conditions for the child to slowly find out who they were meant to be. They try to support their kid’s process of finding their own way. This does not mean that parents don’t influence their children. It just means that they do so by providing a safe and loving environment in which their children can thrive. Gopnik brings interesting and diverse evidence in favor of the gardener mindset (read the book it’s fascinating “The gardener and the carpenter”).

I think that Yemima’s sentence above expresses this truth so beautifully. We are gardeners, rather than carpenters. We grow results, not control results. The only way to do it is with gentle hands: love and acceptance. Hands that gently support the other. It is important to mention part of loving your children and keeping them safe is setting boundaries. However, we can do that also with gentle hands.

There are different aspects of being a parent where I really want to be the carpenter, where I really wish I had specific skills and techniques that will ensure the results I want. As a modern orthodox Jew, I would like my son to grow up to be an adult who keeps this tradition. I wish there were parenting techniques and skills that could ensure this. I accept my wish, but I am slowly learning to understand that I am a gardener not a carpenter. I try to give good conditions for this to happen, but I cannot do more than that. Yemima has a sentence that helps me accept this situation: “Spirituality is the fruit of consent”.

Interestingly, what Gopnik claims specifically about parenting as gardening, Yemima sees more generally in all human growth, including adults. Let us not direct ourselves forcefully to be the “right kind of adult”. Let us try to support our own effort to find out who we are and what we were meant to be. Let us grow results. Let us have faith that the outcome will be good and true. And please, let us do it with good gentle hands of love and acceptance.

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