Hardening Off our Tender Plants

Yesterday our 15 year old son came home wanting to talk about getting a car. Once he passes his driving test he'll be allowed to drive the old red Cherokee to and from school and sports practices. His heart is set on something different.

The discussion ranged from his dream car, a Dodge Charger “nothing new, maybe 2005” to lamentations about how long it will take to save for that car. It appears he’s starting to do the math and comprehending what his labor is worth vs. what the car is worth.

We talked about planning ahead for a summer job and keeping a list of references from past work. That he should be able to recall people who will speak well of his work ethic and willingness to do what needs to be done. We talked about how passing his driving test will make his life a little easier.

All 172 lbs. of my little boy, sturdy frame slouched on the barstool, looked mildly beaten, as if the challenges of becoming independent were a stormcloud darkening the fair weather of his boyhood.

The winding courseof our discussion brought him to a point of realization, that we his parents, are purposefully setting some obstacles in his path. That he has to put forth some effort to have the things he wants. He asked me, “Why does everyone (!) else get to have nice things and I have to work for everything?” (Note the prodigious use of superlatives. My parents tell me I had that habit, too.)

He comments on a classmate who he claims was showered with gifts for a recent birthday. He compares the sort of things he requests and receives with examples of more lavish gifts. And we talk about how each parent makes choices for their particular child, that we cannot know their circumstances. I was struck with an illustration he might understand and went for it.

“Son, you're like a new young plant. We're hardening you off before uprooting you from your pot into the garden soil.” He didn’t stop me, so I continued, trying not to talk over him, and speaking pretty slow and clear for impact.

“...We started you from a seed, and we’re always looking to give you what you need to develop into a strong and independent person; unconditional love, nutritious food, studies, ways to practice talking to all different people, familiarity with technology and tools, and a comfortable, safe home, among many other things.

“...But that also means we say no to certain things, we purposefully don’t give you a lot of what you ask for.”

"...“Son, before we take a tender young plant out of its nursery pot and put it in the garden, it helps to prepare it for the hardships of outdoors. You've seen it, we take the baby plant outdoors into the shade on a fair day. Bring it back inside for the night when the temperatures drop. Keep up this process, and eventually move the plant into the sunshine for a few hours, keep an eye on it, allow it to weather the heat and wind. The wind will tell the young plant to grow a thicker stalk. The beating sun will cause the leaves to toughen up. The potting soil will dry out a little on the surface, so the roots will reach deeper for the nutrients and moisture it needs. All said, the plant is learning to do more for itself. And it is doing what comes naturally.

The plant is learning to do more for itself. And it is doing what comes naturally.

"...By giving you time to work alongside your dad, and by doing odd jobs for family friends, you are learning to grow up, to grow a thicker skin. When you had to pay for half of your school trip, we suspected you'd feel more appreciation for the experience and have a better grasp of the value of that trip. You may not see it now, but we felt our decision to make you earn part of the trip was a gift. When I ask you to prepare some meals here and there, it's so that you'll learn to feed yourself well and maybe even enjoy the process! Same with laundry."

"...So we're sort of hardening you off, like a young plant. When the conditions are mild, we sit you outside, give you some space to feel the breeze, soak in the rain or sunshine. We let you go places with your friends, get you a debit card, provide you a phone and other devices to reach out to the world and put down your own roots of friendship and community. When conditions aren't right for your best growth, we will still take you indoors to safety where you can reset for another days in the wilds of life. The storms will come, and we feel better knowing you've had a chance to naturally toughen up before weathering them on your own."

He's slouching, and I remind him to uncross his arms and sit up tall. He comments, "Mom, nice metaphor. I get what you're saying."

These are good moments. I am blessed and so very grateful.

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