A few days ago I watched the series finale of the sitcom “The Middle,” a show I watched occasionally through the years. As the story goes, the eldest child was leaving Indiana to head off to a new job opportunity in Denver. The mother, who I’ve always found to be both mean and very needy, was extremely upset about her child (who is about 23 in the story-line) leaving home. I found it exaggerated and, therefore, silly.
The next morning as I watered my garden, I couldn’t help think about the different levels of care needed to nurture perennials versus that needed for annuals. I prefer a mix in my garden. I marvel at the gloriously green leafy plants – some with flowers, others without – that pop up each spring, no matter how long and cold the winter. And I can’t help but smile at the vibrant variety of yellows, pinks, oranges, and purples of the tender annuals that line the garden beds and pots around my yard. The annuals that must be planted at just the right time of year, with the proper soil content, daily watering, nourishment, and sunshine.
The thought struck me: how often do we treat our children like annuals when perhaps, they have ‘become’ perennials?
I am privileged to call three wonderful young people (ages 16, 19, 21) my children. They are each kind, compassionate, funny, intelligent, and have a strong work ethic. They’ve done well in school and are finding their direction in life. While they aren’t perfect – they are pretty darn awesome.
Folks often congratulate me on what a great job we’ve done. And I promptly point out that I had little to do with it. Because, in fact, I didn’t follow any of the prominent theories about schedules, structure, or screen time. I was rarely consistent in much of anything. I didn’t make them eat what was put in front of them or finish an activity they signed up for if they didn’t like it. I didn’t attend all their sporting events or school functions. The list of everything I did wrong could go on and on.
Of course, I (we) did some things right – I (we) respected them. We encouraged respect for others and daily reading (but didn’t demand it consistently). We fostered self-regulation and critical thinking. We nurtured their curiosity and creativity.
During several of their most critical years, I experienced what I fondly refer to as my five years of failure — struggling with the financial downturn and unemployment of the Great Recession and the anxiety/depression/chaotic emotion that came with it. I treated them like perennials when they needed the attention of annuals. [Thankfully, my husband remained more emotionally steady than me.]
But thinking about the mother in ‘The Middle’ as I stood in my garden, I couldn’t help but ponder my children (all away at school). They have, indeed, transformed into resilient, beautiful perennials that will, hopefully, return year-after-year to grace my garden.