I always look forward to the first signs of spring. As the sun shines a little longer each day, the trees begin to bud, and tulips and daffodils send green shoots out of the earth. I love it when my favorite spring flowers start showing off their blooms in front of my home. These signal that winter is over and Easter is around the corner. But those flowers didn’t simply appear one day. I planted the unassuming bulbs back in the fall, placing them into the soil that I loosened, covering them carefully to protect them during the cold winter season. To my eyes, nothing is happening with the bulbs for months.
Around February, I begin to get impatient. Did I make a mistake? Maybe I planted them upside down? What if the squirrels ate the bulbs? But I still pull the weeds and tend the ground in which the bulbs lie dormant, waiting for warmer temperatures and the right environment. And finally, the green spears of stems and leaves appear. A few weeks later, gem-colored blooms are everywhere, the evidence of my work and care in a glorious display of tulips, hyacinth, and daffodils.
It’s no secret that there is not a lot of instant gratification in parenting. As a mother, I spend much of my time repeating the same things to my children— “put on your shoes, go to sleep, don’t whine, be kind”— and instilling the same lessons day after day. I care for their little bodies, emotions, and minds, all in an effort to cultivate people who will be decent adults. And some days, it can feel like it’s to no effect: the shoes are lost, everyone is awake and whining, no one is being kind. Every once in a while, I get a spectacular moment of payoff, that gratifying experience when a kid says or does something that leaves my husband and I rejoicing in wake of the evidence that they do in fact listen to what we say, are beginning to embody the kind of person we hope they will become.
So much of parenting is playing the long game, operating on the faith that one day, someday, we’ll see the fruits of our labors. I often get impatient with the lack of immediate results in my children. I want to see the evidence of my hard work and dedication now, not at some point in the unspecified future. I want my kids to listen to me the first time, not the third or three hundredth time.
However, if I’m not careful, my impatience can rob me of the joy of motherhood. It can create resentment and frustration in the face of what is oftentimes a whole lot of emotional labor. But like with my tulip bulbs, I have to remember that parenting is in fact a process, a series of small steps that require faithful, patient care. I have to take the time to tend to the seemingly small and tedious things like watering the soil in which my little people are growing and pulling a weed here and there, even if I’ve pulled weeds from that same bed again and again.
Growing takes time. This is true of both flowers and children. And the only way to embrace the slow process of growth in our kids is through a shift in perspective, one where we celebrate the unseen work of motherhood instead of resenting it or wishing the whole process was a little faster. Parenting requires patient cultivation. And like a gardener, we need to take pleasure in the careful work of tending our children in anticipation of the day when we will see them bloom.