The Parent Gardener
By Seth Weidenaar
In my memory, my life’s milestones of young adulthood are wrapped in the advice and insight I was given about the milestones. The faces (I can still picture many of them very well) and words serve as a jacket for my important memories. Like a jacket worn against the elements of nature, some of the words and faces are very effective and others less so. The processing and evaluating of these pieces of insight and advice is entirely influenced by my education (both the formal schooling part of my education and the growing up in a nurturing, well-educated family). When I began teaching (another one of those young adult milestones upon which I was heavily advised), I realized that many of my students were not processing the insights I was attempting to give them in the same manner that I would. I was talking, and few people were hearing (understanding, processing, evaluating) what I was saying. I needed to change (or not, Literature is full of fun characters who speak and no one listens or cares what they say – check out Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, or Charles Kinbote in Nabakov’s Pale Fire for something more saucy; however, neither of these characters could be considered successful or healthy). I needed to understand how students, who were unlike the students I was trained to teach, would learn and grow. This change in delivery made me think of the topics local author Phyllis Rems Tempest presents in her book The Parent Gardener, and I wish I could have been exposed to this book years ago. But, as I approach another enormous milestone of life (fatherhood), it is not such a bad time to take up the book’s lessons.
The Parent Gardener is a book written to parents in an attempt to help them raise children who are healthy and whole. The book starts at the beginning of the life experience, addressing the basic things parents need to know about children, and then the book works into what makes a child healthy in all ways. The book uses simple language and stories to help the reader grasp the central concepts, and the book provides many questions to help facilitate discussion with other parents or interested people. This is not a book of parenting theories laid out in an extremely dry manner; this is a book that shares successful parenting methods and situations from a few different cultures, but mostly Navajo culture. The book’s small size and simple format might confuse readers about its importance, but please do not be confused; this is a book with an extremely important message. The simple nature of the book allows it to work as a piece of well-intentioned advice and insight for anyone, regardless of that person’s background. The simple nature of the book makes processing of these important ideas quite simple.
The Parent Gardener follows Anderson and Valerie, a young expectant couple, while they consider parenting skills shared by Alice. The parenting skills utilize and consider the Navajo traditions, and the book attempts to put those traditions next to and in concert with the greater world surrounding Anderson and Valerie. The lessons focus on nurturing children through listening to them and considering their needs. The lessons deal specifically with the ways in which parents can attempt to make their children healthy, and what helps children learn and what hinders children from learning. The lessons step beyond these specifics and into the shaping of a child’s identity and the factors necessary for shaping a healthy identity. Eventually the book settles into the problem solving skills that are crucial for a child to develop in order to be successful in the world they live. While these lessons are being discussed by the book’s characters, Tempest never lets the discussion get far away from nurturing. When a child is nurtured by listening, supportive and loving parents, they will grow into a healthy person. This is the important message that the book seeks to stress at every opportunity.
The book drives toward the final chapter, which builds upon earlier ideas presented in the book about the nature of parenting being one that requires constant learning. While the book makes the comparison clear in its title, it develops the idea of the constant learning and adapting necessary for a successful gardener. The task of parenting is not static, and it does not reach a point of completion or perfection. The job of parents is that of teachers who are constantly learning themselves.
Please do not be confused by my introduction. I did not mean to imply that I was attempting to take a role of a parent in my work as a teacher; that is not my place. However, the ideas of nurturing presented in Tempest’s book transfer wonderfully into the classroom, and into every other place where human interaction is taking place. The book has a universal appeal for anyone experiencing other people. The book can serve as a meaningful and memorable piece of advice and insight for anyone and everyone.