John Cowan - Your kids: are they rhubarb or beans?

Publish Date
Friday, 10 February 2017, 12:40PM
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

By John Cowan

For a long time I thought that parents shaped their children. I believed that we coached and mentored and disciplined them into the adults they eventually become. I now wonder if that is correct. I look at my three adult children: they are so totally different! (They are also totally wonderful, but that is a father’s opinion). I have a serious oldest son who wants to change the world, a brilliant daughter who loves business and science, and an artistic youngest who lives in a world of music and philosophy. If I was such a key factor in making them who they are, how did they end up so different from each other? If I was shaping them, did I have any of these shapes in mind? No. They just ‘turned out’ that way.

I now see that my role has been more of a gardener than a craftsman. It is like I was given some packets of seeds, but the labels had come off. I planted them all and nurtured them the same but, after a while, I saw that some seeds were coming up as beans, others as watermelon, some as corn and so on. When I knew what I was growing I could start to cultivate them appropriately – staking the tomatoes, training the vines, lifting the rhubarb (real gardeners would have better illustrations than me). The gardener is important, but I cannot turn a marrow into a cauliflower. I have to discover what it is then work with that. As our different children showed there areas of gifting, my wife and I were able to encourage them specifically: sport with one, music with another and so on.

Genes account for so much of our children’s abilities, temperament and other attributes, and our parenting has little impact on that. That’s the seeds  but the gardener does provide a ‘quality’ to his ‘produce’ that cannot just be explained by DNA. If your child is great at sport, that might just be genetics; but if they are sportsman who is also kind, well-mannered and self-controlled, I am prepared to applaud the gardener. We work with whatever the genetic shuffle has dealt us, but the work is important.

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