There are parents for whom a baby is but a project. The goal is the perfect child and each meal, teaching, toy and urging is a bullet point on a decades-long to-do list. There is love. But the mood of the love is vigilant and hurried. When this parent speaks about parenting, they sound precisely like an overworked project manager tasked with an impossibly demanding and unpredictable project.
It is natural, when we plant a tree, to care for it and wish it to thrive. We might fertilise and de-weed and splint the spindling trunk. But the project parent is the constant gardener who cares too much, who frets themselves silly with shape, size, and flower density, with the perfect regimen of sun, shade and water. They fuss about the weather and shout at the seasons. They will the tree to grow faster and straighter, possessed by that future day, at last, when the tree is tall enough to cast shade on the patio. They worry what their neighbours think about their tree and what the tree says about their worth as gardeners and humans. In the most severe cases, the constant gardener stumbles to the kitchen at 3am for some warm milk or Xanax, regretting the choice of Brazilian nanny because the tree should be picking up some Spanish or Chinese not Portuguese, panicked sick whether their infant, foot-high tree will get into Harvard.
I speak with sympathy. I know how easily we become casualties of good intentions, and I suspect the most enduring challenge of parenthood is knowing how and how much to nurture.
For now I’m lucky. My son is growing just fine and my preoccupations with his development are few and mild. I spend my days with him trying to love and experience more so than engineer and achieve. In other words, here I stand naively in favour of laissez-faire, letting nature do its thing. But just wait till my tree gets a root fungus or starts hanging out with deadbeat pot-smoking poppy plants. Kitchen, 3am, warm milk, to-do list.