Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Planted A Child

I was thinking about my son today as I tried to save my dying plants. Right now the man he will become is developing beneath the surface of his infancy. I imagine him putting down the first delicate roots that will deepen to sustain him through the droughts and storms of life.

My recent fitful attempts at gardening brought a disconcerting thought to mind: small early damage can doom a plant. I planted hydrangeas that withered in a late frost. At first they seemed to recover and even grow, but one by one they all died.

Today I was trying to save my shriveling plants from the sweltering heat of a Georgia summer drought. I was out of town so they didn't get any watering. Their new root systems weren't strong enough to reach the deep water like the big white oaks in the front yard. My vegetable garden is lost and many of the trees I planted were withering. I attempted to revive the little maple by the driveway with water, but I wonder if from now on it may always be stunted. Even a redwood I planted last Fall was visibly damaged.

I want my son to grow into a man like a redwood: immovable, deep, self-contained. They grow to become the world's tallest trees, but the little redwood in my back yard is nearly dead after a few weeks of drought.

Of course the principles of gardening are simple and well known. Babies are more complex. Conflicting theories abound on how not to damage their developing souls.

When I hear my baby cry what should I do? One theory tells me I must immediately go to him and comfort him. He will learn love, kindness, and trust from this, otherwise he would grow up cold, distant, unable to connect to another. Another theory tells me as long as he has recently been fed, cleaned, and loved I should let him cry. Self-soothing will develop self-control and patience. Immediately comforting every cry creates self-absorption and a false expectation that the world should always serve him.

The problem with babies is that their rooting takes place beneath the surface. They cannot tell us about their formation, nor will they recall it afterwards. All our theories about their developing souls are speculation, and the vast differences among children make clear patterns difficult to ascertain. Perhaps we flatter ourself to think we are influencing their formation at all. Perhaps they arrive with roots already so deep within the soil of themselves that they are hardier than any fitful weather of infancy.

I wonder if my abilities as a father will be any better than my gardening? I am certain within my love I am already making mistakes. I am reminded of Paul's words “I planted... but God gave the increase.” I can water, fertilize, prune, provide sunlight and shelter, but the life within a growing tree will remain a hidden mystery. It is the same with my son. He is not my own. I pray that God is good to him, and guides him with a steadier hand than my own.


bobw said...

good thoughts, thanks. I have waivered between trying to get it all just right and realizing I'm going to screw up no matter what I do. I suspect both viewpoints have some validity, and I take much comfort that God loves us no matter what. I'm finding the best thing to "do" is pray, and go from there.

joannabug said...

Great post, Jonathan. It does get bewildering, doesn't it? I feel like we just reached a new stage of parenting with Ian crawling, and now wanting to get into everything. Some camps say you should always handle it X way, others say you should never do Y. So much of it is a process based on the parents and the individual child. It's such a work in progress, too. I find myself questioning what I've done at the end of the day, and wondering if I've made the best choices.

We lean more towards the comforting the kids when they need it--sometimes they just want some lovin', even if their physical needs are met. Of course with two, we weren't always able to attend instantly to every cry, but we learned to distinguish between fussing and crying.

People tell us that our kids are really content, and I feel like a lot of that has to do with helping them feel secure in the early days. Attending the needs of a two-month old when he cries is very different than say, dropping everything for a toddler when he cries (depending on the situation). Maybe in the analogy it would be like giving the tenderest care to the seed and sapling so that it can grow up strong and independent.

I don't want to go on too long here, but my pastor growing up preached a great sermon on how we shouldn't treat covenant children as "vipers in diapers" (as catchy as that sounds!). Sometimes people too far off in the comforting-immediately-causes-self-absorption side view babies as manipulative, and that can get rather problematic.

You'll figure it out as you go along, and I know your boy will sense the deep love you and your wife feel towards him, and no matter what parenting philosophy you lean towards, that's going to help him grow up into a strong, steady man.