Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lessons in "Cultivating"

My family recently joined our new local CSA (i.e., Community Supported Agriculture, aka "farm"). Volunteer hours at the farm are part of membership. When my husband and I went to volunteer some time, several people were involved in a project putting large, telephone pole-like stakes into the ground for fencing. It soon became clear that my strengths (or lack thereof) would not be best put to use with this project. So instead I was offered the alternate task of "cultivating."

Not having much farm or gardening experience, I didn't really know what I would be doing when I was sent off to "cultivate," and I was a little curious why a younger, more farm-experienced woman there seemed to be pretty strongly opposed to joining me on this task. Well, it turns out that "cultivating" is just a fancy way to say "weeding." The task has very little glory and a great deal of tedium. It is, however, a very necessary task for growing a healthy garden.

It got me thinking about parenting in a couple of ways. First, much of the day-to-day tasks involved in raising children can have that same sense of tedium and lack of grandeur. In the moment, it may not always feel so important to be packing lunches, helping with homework, and preparing dinner. Yet it is the consistency and repetition of these tedious acts - and more - that compose an environment of stability and security for our children. Stable and secure environments are pretty good insurance for keeping some of the unwanted "weeds" out of our family gardens.

The other parenting lesson I learned from this experience relates to the words we choose. I was much more excited at the prospect of "cultivating" than I would have been if I had just been told to go "weed." It sounded a little exotic and mysterious. The word also had an implied sense of importance to me. I was going to be doing something special to prepare land for growing.

The words we choose to use with our children also have potential to be more or less motivating. In particular, the words we choose to label food can have power with both children and adults. In his classic book, Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink reports several studies that demonstrate when descriptive adjectives are used that evoke emotional, nostalgic, or sensory experiences, the food is rated more favorably in comparison to the exact same food without those descriptions. 

So my challenges to you ~ 
  • try to find a way to reframe and reword some of the everyday, seemingly little things you do as a parent 
  • and play around with some of your word choices in your interactions with your children
  • and share your thoughts in the comments below

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