PARENTS

Why I Garden With My Kids (And Why You Should, Too)

05/11/2015 09:54 EDT | Updated 05/11/2015 09:59 EDT
Shutterstock

There is no commitment that I’ve made that is more important to me than the pact I made to my kids when I signed on as their mother. My two little people, undoubtedly, own the biggest part of me — as they should.

Lately they’ve been missing me though. Working shiftwork and kicking ass in school takes a lot out of me and sometimes I show up to them pretty worn out. They notice — who wouldn’t? — and that’s not fair.

There are no doubts when my youngest needs me more. He’ll cry at daycare drop-off and not let go of my neck. He’ll cuddle in my chest like he was an infant, sometimes even bringing his mouth to my skin in some regressive primal attempt to reconnect. He’ll run out of his bed, breathing panicked, and ask for “one more hug.” Fortunately, he’s reassured when I hold him tight, honour whatever comfort need he might express, and give him my undivided all: forehead to forehead, heart to heart, eyes to eyes, and breath to breath.

My eldest is trickier. He is less inclined to make himself so vulnerable now, and when he needs me it looks more like resentment than anxiety or sadness. He’s more complicated to hold, heal, or reassure. And that, dear reader, is one reason why we garden together.

Gardening with children is magic in the purest form. It brings all of you home, quite literally, and that’s certainly what my eldest son needs from me. But there are so many more reasons than just that.

Here is why I garden with my kids:

11. Gardening is an adventure.

We all know that children enjoy messy fun. They like to try new things, they love to help, and they are curious to learn. For all these reasons, gardening is the perfect activity. Gardening appeals to all the senses — soil and bulbs have an aroma, herbs can be tasted along the way, and soil feels so good in your hands. Add water and it’s muck. From start to finish, gardening is about discovery, and discovery is invigorating. This is how children learn best: through shared, playful adventure.

10. Gardening teaches patience.

In a world where everything happens so fast, gardening is an excellent activity to teach children about delayed gratification. You have to carefully plan before you garden, you have to work hard to get started, and then you have to continue to apply yourself for days, weeks, and months before you see a reward. And when you do, it’s all the sweeter for how much you put into it.

9. Gardening is hopeful.

You never know what might happen when you garden. You don’t know what will break ground and grow strong, and you don’t know what seeds will and won’t make it. You have to send wishes out into the world. You find yourself hoping for more sun, more rain, more chances. You find yourself inspired by the littlest growth, the tiniest shoots, the things that might become. You feel hopeful and wistful and excited.

Sharing this hope with the lives you’ve grown, and seeing them gently encourage sprouts, smile gleefully at their progress, and squeal at a flowering plant is over the top. It’s like every innocent and delicate part of life has converged into this nurturing act. Gardening is worth doing just to give your kids the opportunity to feel so hopeful. It’s also worth doing for you. Seeing hope in your kids' eyes will fill you up in ways you can barely imagine.

8. Gardening is life-affirming.

All that effort and hope eventually manifests itself into new life. The wonder! The first shoots that surface bring it all into focus: Go where the life is. Go where the growth is. Go where the fresh is. Tend to it, enjoy it, and celebrate it. Is there a better lesson to teach our children?

7. Gardening allows children to practice caretaking.

My boys are both so tender. They love animals, other children, and being a part of anything where they can give. My eldest especially wants to take care of other things. He tries to support his sibling, though his offers are almost always rejected. He feeds and cares for our cat, who takes all he has to give because she is desperate for attention (oops). He wants to contribute to the maintenance of our house, which I allow because I don't want to crush his spirit. (But I still cringe every time he clumsily knocks the broom or vacuum into the walls.) Gardening is a low maintenance and low risk outlet for him to practice tending to something. And, it doesn’t shed.

6. Gardening teaches us that we can’t control every outcome.

My biggest guy learned too young that life can be cruel. He witnessed his mother choke on tears when a dear friend died young and he too felt grief. Gardening helps put life in perspective. Despite our patience, hope and care, not everything works out. Not everything will live, no matter how hard we try or want for it to be different. Gentle lessons about impermanence are healthy and, in our case, healing.

5. Gardening is empowering.

Despite being physical and challenging in some regards, gardening is something that people of all ages can do. Everyone can participate or contribute somehow. Sure, it might be messier with younger ones, and the seedlings might need protection from the adults in order to survive, but gardening is an accessible way for children to experience mastery. Applying yourself, learning new skills, and being successful are all good for self-esteem. Obviously, we want this for our wee people.

4. Gardening is therapeutic.

My big kid is pretty tightly wound. He tries so hard at life. One reason I love to garden with him is that gardening is famous for its calming and grounding qualities (no pun intended). There is something about getting dirty that just chills you out. Away from it all, there’s no noise but your breathing and conversation, no distraction but each other, and no stimulation but what you each bring and share.

3. Gardening teaches self-care.

Taking a moment away from to-do lists and technology and immersing yourself in something fresh outdoors is a core ingredient for a soul charge. For little ones, we know that less stimulation is often more, but we also know that it is hard to achieve solace amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. Welcoming our children to share this time with us is a great opportunity to model how we can give ourselves some reprieve.

2. Gardening does not require conversation or eye contact.

Although sharing an activity with someone often leads to rich conversation, gardening is a perfect choice when things might be tense between you and your child. As our children get older, dynamics shift. Maybe when they get awkward and more difficult to engage, gardening can still be an activity you share. Working side by side in silence is perfectly acceptable when you are in the garden. Plus, establishing this habit early means that an invite in the future won’t be intimidating. There is no expectation to talk and if no talking happens, you’ve still been able to spend some quality time together, collaborating on a shared task. This is connection.

And last, but definitely not least,

1. Gardening teaches us about love.

Like children, gardens ask us to invest our energy and attention in them. With our care, they can grow and thrive to the best of their ability. Grow little ones, grow.

ALSO ON HUFFPOST: