Carpenter or Gardener?

As a part of our continuing growth as a staff, we recently dove into a book study on The Carpenter and The Gardener by Alison Gopnik.  The book explores the different ways parents can raise kids by looking at modern styles of parenting.

This analogy of the Carpenter is the idea that you start with a specific kind of material or model in mind and your job is to shape the material into a final product.  You measure twice and cut once.  You use precision and control to shape your product.  You select the best tools and equipment to ensure that your final product is exactly as you expected.  You assess the job by looking at the final product and your vision to create a “chair” creates a chair.  Your product of course is your child.  A carpenter may think “Here’s how I want my child to come out.  If I do the right things and read the right books then my child will turn out that way.”  This high pressure method can lead to parents and children feeling anxious when their expectations aren’t met.

The analogy of the Gardener is to create a protected space to nurture your plants to flourish. You may draw out plans and carefully select where your garden will be planted.  You build a protective fence around it and carefully consider what seeds to plant, which soil is best.  You consult with other gardeners.  But you know the elements of nature can thwart your plans and can cause things to grow differently than expected.  You appreciate the value and beauty in the way each plant grows.  Though gardening can be messy, risky and challenging it can also provide the greatest joy when an unexpected plant shows up in just the right place.  You don’t place value on your abilities as a gardener by the way the garden turns out.  You expect that with the foundation you have laid the plants will thrive with strengths/beauties and adapt to weaknesses/difficulties making your plants perhaps more resilient.

As parents, you prepare your children to prepare for these elements.  You do more than meet the basic needs of your children.  You share your knowledge and feedback from your experiences out in the elements.  You model setting boundaries, empathy, compassion and kindness.  You’re open to the probability that your children will not turn out exactly as you expect them too.  You continue to love and nurture them while they grow and develop into who they are going to be.

As a parent myself, I think that many of us strive to follow our kids lead while creating a protected space to nurture them, just as a Gardener.  But, I also think there is a Carpenter in all of us.  Our own childhoods have shaped us in what we want to provide or avoid for our own children’s experiences.  We may make intentional decisions with an outcome in mind because of an experience we had.

I think we can find balance between these two methods. To have some very general and realistic expectations while being laid back and flexible to accept and create a new plan.  To have the best intentions about what we feel is best for our children and the ability to put aside our expectations and accept who are children really are.

If you’re interested in learning more about the book here is a recent NPR interview with the Author Alison Gopnik

– Amy Rudawsky, Co-Director