It’s a question many if not most children will ask a parent at least once: who, of all your children, do you love the most? Although they may ask this question at any age, I am attaching it to a milestone at age 6. This is because they get much more intellectually formidable at age 6. They can’t be tricked. They think they are very smart. They are keenly aware of someone selling something false to them, such as a food advertiser that uses fake food. They similarly may say something to you like, “You’re just being nice,” when you compliment them in some way. As such, questions like “do you really love me?” or “who do you love best?” may come up now.
Here is how I always answer this. I tell them I think each of my children as a flower, and how can I ever pick a favorite flower? I then assign each of them a flower, based on their favorite flowers. My daughter is a rose. My firstborn son is a tulip. And my youngest is a sunflower. They all have their good things about them, and I nurture each a little bit differently. They love thinking about which flower they are. I might get asked which flower I like best, but again–how can I pick? Roses have such a deep, bold color. Tulips fit so well in the spring weather. Sunflowers catch the golden sun like no other. So, too, each of my children are beautiful and unique.
I love this especially because growing a flower and raising a child really are strikingly similar. How many have pointed out that we should see children as a “flower that unfolds rather than clay to mold”? Truly, the principles are the same. Of course we need to set up a flower with the right environment: proper soil, nutrients, air, proper weather, and plenty of sunlight. But the flower does the rest.
I document the age-related stages children go through. It is times children act out, but it’s because they are going through a “brain upgrade.” Children tend to fall apart as new mental or physical skills are on their way. On the other side of the stage is a markedly more mature child with new skills. It proves, utterly, that they are like a flower that blooms. There is an apparatus at work in the background doing the lion’s share of this work.
My main mission in doing this work is to challenge the idea of “tabula rasa”–blank slate theory. It’s the idea that we control our children’s eventual outcome by giving them the right [education, role models, values, etc.] in a direct way: we control their thinking to then control their behavior. We do not. We have little, in fact no control over the process. We can be good gardeners, but we cannot change the identity of the flower. And that flower is going to go through many, many stages as it draws strength from the sun and water, fights off pests, and responds to the weather. There is a robustness there. Flowers inspire me. A rain-drenched flower, to me, always shows what true resilience really is.
My children are each a flower. My daughter is an extroverted delight who is always wondering how she can make people happy. My firstborn son is wicked smart at analyzing anything whatsoever. My third is charismatic and cheeky. This is what I mean by each is a “flower.” It is our job as parents to put them in touch with their authentic self. Supposedly moral ideals get in the way: how many children grow up thinking they were never smart enough, never pretty enough, never charismatic enough, etc, etc?
Fighting this shame is what, truly, I do in most of my parenting advice. This toxic shame is given to children by their caregivers. It need not. They have something in them that is amazing–if we could just see it. Maybe that thing is being good at traditional academics. Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it is being outgoing with every person they meet. Maybe it isn’t. This is the “flower” I’m trying to get people to see. It is the main point of my book Towards Liberalism. We should lean into understanding human nature, not impose our will on children. On a deep level. On a character level.
To feel safe and confident in your own skin. To bloom into the flower you were meant to be. That’s what I am fighting for.
Amber is most known for her child development work documenting the age-related stages children go through. Send you parent friends to The Observant Mom