My hus­band is always full of analo­gies to try and help me clar­i­fy my thoughts – usu­al­ly they relate to the ear­ly care of babies and young chil­dren. I’ve found an anal­o­gy of my own! Last week I was talk­ing to an old friend who is car­ing for her step-grand­daugh­ter. She has nev­er had chil­dren of her own and she said “So here I am 64, becom­ing a moth­er of a 10 year old for the first time!” We laughed!

She is one of my long time plant bud­dies and we have shared many cut­tings, seedlings, crises, and laughs over the years. I’ve been feed­ing her ‘mothering’ ideas and she is very grate­ful and mak­ing progress in the rela­tion­ship. I also remind­ed her that she need­ed to under­stand a lit­tle more about the first 10 years of her step-granddaughter’s life so she could learn the build­ing blocks which did or did not go into the child’s ear­ly years.

I advised my friend to think about the child as she was plant­i­ng seeds, pot­ting on plants and fer­til­iz­ing her gar­den ‘trea­sures’ dur­ing the week.

As I was prepar­ing sup­per the oth­er evening I sud­den­ly had a flash of inspi­ra­tion to send her: she real­ly needs to think about the rela­tion­ship between the ear­ly care of plants (her skill set) and the ear­ly care of young chil­dren (my skill set). Turns out they aren’t so dif­fer­ent; we each love ‘growing’ lit­tle ones!

Here’s what I told her: imag­ine a plant that has nev­er been watered or fer­til­ized, it may or may not grow well phys­i­cal­ly depend­ing on its genet­ics. Any plant that isn’t well treat­ed, is nev­er put in a larg­er pot to let its roots grow, is nev­er plant­ed in the ground, or rarely watered (or giv­en too much water) will actu­al­ly nev­er live up to its full poten­tial. It will either fall over in a storm or its limbs will break or at worst, it will dry up and die — the way I found a love­ly new plant I bought only a cou­ple of weeks ago; it was pro­found­ly neglect­ed by me! If I believe my own words that means I’m bet­ter with babies than with plants!

Think about how this all relates to a small child who doesn’t get well nour­ished emo­tion­al­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. Exact­ly how are they to ‘plant their root­s’ in the world and become sta­ble, strong and resilient human beings? 

I recent­ly saw a baby who was born in the 90th per­centile on the stan­dard growth chart and at 10 months of age was only in the 4th per­centile – what had hap­pened in those first 10 months? She seemed bright enough, alert and hap­py, but I have my the­o­ries. Much the same ones as I’d have if I pulled a plant out of the pot and saw it was root­bound or per­haps had no roots at all. 

Nei­ther my neglect­ed shriv­eled plant nor that baby grew well enough for my lik­ing though each had a chance at a long and healthy life. Some­thing can prob­a­bly be done to improve the devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ry of the child, but not with­out con­sid­er­able con­sis­tent effort……and time. I feel sure she will at least sur­vive since she is part of a lov­ing fam­i­ly. My love­ly plant on the oth­er hand shows no sign of life!

It’s easy to sur­vive the loss of a plant — regret­tably I’ve had a few of those but if I want­ed I could buy anoth­er one and try again. If I failed to ensure a child was grow­ing well the pain and anguish would prob­a­bly last a life­time — chil­dren are irreplaceable.