On Tending


Tend (v):

1. to attend to by work or services, care, etc: to tend a fire.

2. to look after; watch over and care for; minister to or wait on with service: to tend the sick.

3. to lead or be directed in a particularly direction

4. to be disposed or inclined in action, operation, or effect to do something: The particles tend to unite.


Having worked with young people on and off for the better part of my life, there is one verb I feel best describes the work of a caregiver, parent, or teacher: to tend.

It is a gentle but profound word.

We tend fires, we tend the sick and dying, we tend our gardens.

And we tend our children.

The fire. The dying. The garden. The child.

All these are potent signs of a reality that requires tenderness, watchfulness, oxygen – a delicate blend of vigilance and space.

I have seen children who are carefully tended – who are trained and pruned with the greatest love and kindness. These children have a gentleness fostered by a deep sense of security and protection.


Of course, all parents lose their tempers sometimes. And all children test boundaries. We are learning as we go – and making plenty of mistakes along the way. Fortunately, children are supremely forgiving of mistakes made in a spirit of service and nurturance. And almost all wounds can be healed – as long as children know they walk on solid ground.

This ground is the love, respect and trust they have for their parents, caregivers, and teachers.

I feel the best way to establish this sense of security and confidence is for a child to know he or she is being tended. This includes, but is not limited to, being attentive to a child’s needs. Being firm and sometimes unyielding, but also caring and receptive.

Beyond this, tending is a posture or stance we must adopt in every aspect of our lives – not only teaching and child-rearing, but self-reflection and service. It is an attitude of leadership, directed toward unity and integration. And it begins with ourselves.


We must learn to nurture and nourish both the fire of our spirit, and the sick and dying elements of our bodies and souls. These wounded or dead parts of ourselves are not to be feared and shunned, but welcomed and healed. Or honored and let go.

We must tend our interior garden with constancy and affection. For this is the only garden we can enter without fear of being cast out.

And once we are assured the ground will not give way – that we too walk on the bedrock of our soul’s own love, respect, and trust – we will glimpse something hidden in the tall grasses and shy, blooming things.

A child.

This is the child we have so long neglected. The one who can bear too much. We must signal our friendship from a distance. Then, approach.


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