Book Review: The Gardener and the Carpenter

A little over nine (9) years ago, my husband and I became parents for the first time after some struggles with infertility (I had a hormonal imbalance). That day feels like 100 years ago and yet yesterday. Prior to our eldest son’s birth, we spent a lot of time talking, thinking, and reading about parenting in addition to taking as many birthing and parenting classes available. I’m thankful that we both tend to approach new experiences by doing as much homework as possible.

But truly nothing really prepared us for all of the ins and outs of parenting our first child!

One book that I do sometimes wish I’d read a while ago, although we stumbled into many of the suggestions in the book on our own, is the subject of this review, The Gardener and the Carpenter; What the new Science of Child Development Tells us about The Relationship Between Parents and Children.

My husband and I were raised in very different environments, across culture, countries, race; just about everything was different. And this has given us the opportunity to think about how we want to raise our children, comparing and contrasting what we know ourselves. While many of the tenets we examined from our own experiences were more of the carpenter or creator perspective, we quickly learned to consider the viewpoint of the gardener, to focus on creating the soil, ensuring that water and nutrients were provided.

Our children were not born blank slates, but came equipped with strong personalities from the beginning.

But children actually learn more from the unconscious details of what caregivers do than from any of the conscious manipulations of parenting.

As soon as our children could speak or communicate, we quickly learned this. No matter what we intended to do, say or impart, what we really thought was what our children absorbed.

Children learn by watching and imitating the people around them. Psychologists call this observational learning. And they learn by listening to what other people say about how the world works—what psychologists call learning from testimony.

We have learned to watch for opportunities to engage our children in both observational and testimonial learning, choosing carefully when we need to sit down and talk to the boys. We also plot a little as to which of us will take on which conversations with which child. As the boys are growing older, the conversations are happening more and more between them and their father, not just about racial issues because of their similar skin color, but also because they are all male. I still get the snuggles, for now anyway.

Play is a satisfying good in itself—a source of joy, laughter, and fun for parents as well as children. If it had no other rationale, the sheer pleasure of play would be justification enough.

I confess that this gem is one concept that I’ve struggled the most with.

The greatest and most challenging transition in the school-age period is the transition from a life that is centered on our caregivers to one that is instead centered on our peers—the friends and enemies, leaders and followers, and lovers and rivals who will dominate our lives as adults.

In the end, the human story of parents and children is surely more hopeful than sad. Our parents give us the past, and we hand on the future to our children.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Gardener and the Carpenter

  1. Abigail, I have been a teacher most of my life and parents often ask me for advice and of course it depends on each child but a while back a group of parents put me on the spot and asked me for one single piece of advice and of course I couldn’t do it. But I did come up one thing that should never be left off the list and that is; you must give you child permission to fail. If they don’t have that permission they might never try to reach for the next branch and the next after that.


  2. Terrific review of a book whose title sounds like a fable and maybe is a fable. I very much appreciate the thoughtfulness you apply in parenting, which is something else your children should be absorbing unconsciously (from your unconscious). I think the struggle you mention is a sound one; for I figure parents continue to have a central role, even as the situation changes developmentally, socially.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed. We can’t but want to reshape those moldable youngsters into our image. I think some of what MBC has taught me is to let go of some of that. Maybe. I’m still influencing them, just hoping to give them tools to apply the lessons to what life brings them and this blog is part of that, as soon as they are old enough to read it.

      Liked by 1 person

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