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Silver Bells and Cockle Shells: Growing in the Garden of Parenthood

Updated: Mar 14

By: Leanne H.

When I was a kid, I had a picture book with the Mistress Mary poem. There are several variations of this poem, but mine went:

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, And cockle shells,

And marigolds all in a row.

The book illustrations were all in silvers and grays, with pastel flowers and a little girl with a rounded face peeping over the garden plants. As a parent, this memory hits even more strongly, because now I can view the memory coming from the parent’s role, reading to my children.

As an assignment this term, I took the Personal Values Assessment test (you can take it here, it’s about five minutes and kind of fun). One of my core values was growth. I find that, as a parent, growth is complex because you hope to grow in a way that will make you a better person but also will support your family dynamic. When I decided to change careers and go back to grad school, the decision was mine, but the implementation required discussions with my family to make sure our needs as a unit would continue to be met. Practical things like cost, balancing work, and more scheduling considerations for say, dentist appointments or school conferences.

Even if you are an organized person and have made the most optimal plan, life throws you chaos and there’s a constant pressure to overschedule, leaving limited margins to address the unplanned tasks that are part of parenting and life in general. There are big emotions, not just from kids, but also from parents. For me, it’s a continual process to fit everything in and you may as well play Cats in the Cradle on a loop in the background - I am very aware of the fleeting time we have together before my kids go to college.

With this in mind, I think the challenge I’d throw out there is not to always show up as the perfect parent or person. If you’re perfect, or so busy presenting as such, you have no room to grow. In Jiu-jitsu, often the highest-ranked practitioners are the most humble. They recognize that there is always room for improvement and they will find themselves in competition or training situations they haven’t yet encountered. These are the opportunities to learn.

So - and please bear with the metaphor - what core values are you growing in your garden? How will you grow into them, as a family member and as yourself individually? When you mess up (because we all mess up), is it just because it’s a situation that you haven’t yet encountered? Can you recognize it as a chance to learn? In the midst of all this, feel free to take a moment to scream into the abyss. After a year in an intensive grad program, I feel particularly qualified to tell you, that sometimes it is not the time for self-reflection, it is abyss-screaming time and you can reflect later. But once the dust settles (and it usually does, even for just 15 minutes and a cup of coffee), what can you use about what just happened to cultivate your growth and create a more beautiful garden?


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