Our family’s gardens consists of three raised terraces, a small patch along the side of our house, and a decorative patch in the front. We have a few trees that need tending as well.
Sometimes, the work in the garden provides a solitary respite for either Sarah or myself. The garden can be a quiet place to go where you just focus on the planting or the weeds or the harvesting.
At other times, though, it’s a family experience, and I think we value those moments most of all.
My oldest child is mature enough to understand some basic tasks and execute them well. He takes pride in doing small, specific things very well. I’ll ask him to pull all of the weeds from around a single tomato plant, and I know he’ll do it well and feel very good about his work.
Our middle child loves the harvest most of all. When there are red tomatoes or thick beans to be picked, she dives right in and picks them, often tasting a few along the way. She has perhaps the deepest appreciation of the wonderful flavor and texture of fresh vegetables straight out of the garden. She also loves the planting, as we allow her to use the hand spade to dig small holes for planting.
The youngest? He sees it all as play time. He’s happiest when we pull weeds and make a pile of them for him to play in. He’ll toss them in the air, dance around, and laugh so infectiously that everyone else is soon smiling, too.
Gardening is a family experience. We all get enjoyment out of it and, at the end of the year, we all have delicious food to enjoy. Our children get to see the entire process for themselves, from the tiny seeds and seedlings that go into the ground in spring through their magnificent growth in the summer to their harvest in the early fall.
Sure, I might be able to do many of the tasks just as quickly (if not more so) if I just did them myself, but when the family is added, it transforms from a task to be done to something fun done together as a family. There’s also the idea that this is training in some ways, so that when they’re older they’ll be much more effective at helping out.
Gardening is just one example of this. We often employ our children to help out with simple projects, many of which save us money.
If I’m fixing something, I let my oldest children get involved. I have them retrieve tools for me, show them exactly what I’m fixing and how the repair is done, and they feel some pride when I tell others that we fixed the sink or mended the cabinet door.
If we’re making a meal at home, everyone gets involved. Someone sets the table. Someone else adds some ingredients to the bowl. Another person stirs. It is not just “the meal mom and dad made;” it’s something we’re all involved in and can all take ownership of.
In each case, it might be slightly faster to just do it myself. But, again, in each case, an ordinary task becomes a family task that we can do together, our children learn something new, and in the end, we can all claim ownership and pride over the results. That’s well worth investing an extra moment or two in the project.
Our children enjoy these things now, but later on in life when they’re reflecting on what it means to be an adult, they’ll recall the garden they had and the things they fixed themselves, just like Sarah and I recall our own childhoods. If nothing else, they’ll remember doing things together with their parents, but there’s a very good chance that they’ll pick up tools and give it a shot themselves. What better long-term reward can a frugal project give than that?
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.