What Strawberry Picking Taught Me About Parenting

strawberry picking

It’s strawberry picking season and the fields are loaded with big, red, juicy berries. We always go to the same farm. It’s tradition. We target a cloudy morning before 10 to minimize the misery index. Those career fruit pickers, you gotta respect them. This job isn’t for the faint of heart and the pay stinks.

We do it for fun though. We pick around 30 pounds of berries and then wash and slice and cook and freeze for, pretty much, a full day. The resulting rows of bright red jam that lines the countertop, it’s picture perfect.

strawberry picking

When I pick berries, my mind wanders. I find myself listening in to the conversations around me. Always, and I do mean always, there’s a bunch of moms and kids picking nearby and strawberry picking with young children, it’s a wild adventure. 

This year, it was little redhead Henry, his big sister and their mama who captured my attention. We all arrived about the same time. That’s how we ended up in rows near each other. Little Henry looked about 4. His mama told her kiddos to pick the red berries, the ones without brown decay or bird beak burrowed holes. She showed them a berry that was only partially ripe and explained how they were looking for the ones that were red all over. She no sooner squatted in position than little Henry started tossing berries down the row. Maybe they were berries that didn’t qualify as worthy of a place in his take home box. I don’t know. I’ve never understood the mind of a 4 year old boy, but somehow, berry tossing made sense to Henry or at least felt fun. 

Calmly, Henry’s mama redirected him. “Henry, we don’t throw berries, we pick them and put them in our box, please.” About 2 seconds later, Henry wandered over to the next row and randomly started picking berries off another lady’s assigned patch. Thankfully, she was a grandma, compassionate regarding the hazards of strawberry picking with pre-schoolers. Henry’s mama intervened again. “Henry, you’re going to have to give your berries to that lady if you keep picking in her row. Come over here by us and we’ll pick berries together to take home.”

Henry meandered closer to his big sister and started eating every berry he picked. Mom noticed after she glanced up at him, having had a few uninterrupted moments to pick berries herself. “Henry, how about if we wait to eat the berries until we go home and wash them. Let’s put berries in our box instead.” And this routine continued on loop. Throwing. Wandering. Eating. Meanwhile, Henry’s bigger sister, squatted over the berries focused on contributing to the family’s take-home box. Thank heavens for big sisters!

The little girl picking on the row to our opposite side was adventuring with her mama and grandparents.  This little princess was a whiner and that is a scenario I’m intimately acquainted with. Every few seconds she’d narrate her feelings. 

“I’m hot.” 

“This is too hard.” 

“I want to go home.” 

Her Mama wanted a picture, one where everybody smiles for about a half a second to remember the morning the way she imagined it rather than the way it actually is. But Little Princess isn’t having it and Papa’s answer to their strawberry picking “FAIL”  is predictable. 

“Want me to take you to the car and we’ll have some candy, honey?” 

Honestly, before judging Papa, in a practical sense his suggestion works. Mama gets a few minutes to pick like a crazy woman while grandpa keeps little princess happy and safe.

These mamas, they’re my heroes. Both of them, in their own unique ways. 

Little Princess’ mama, she was shrewd. Bringing grandparents, that is the supreme solution to the problem of productivity when strawberry picking with young children. 

And Henry’s mama, she’s awesome. She realizes that everything doesn’t need to be an authority struggle. A wise and self-confident parent picks their battles carefully, sensitive to age and stage. In my book, she ordered her loves appropriately with relationship first and productivity second.

Let’s be honest, what mama hasn’t gone strawberry picking with their tribe of young ‘uns and felt frustrated? Angry? Embarrassed? Disappointed? And maybe what we felt somehow slipped out in what we said or even what we did to our kids right there in the berry field. We mamas, we get in a tiz about so many things.

Obviously, when we go strawberry picking, we want to come home with berries, but hear my heart for you, young mamas. Do not sacrifice relationship on the altar of productivity. In the long haul, how you pick trumps how much you pick. 

And here’s another thing: Do not sacrifice relationship on the altar of image. In the end, who really cares if the other mamas around you make judgements about your parenting, about your kids’ obedience or lack thereof. You’re not ultimately parenting for their approval. God’s the one you want to impress and lucky for you, he’s your biggest cheerleader. Follow His example and fight for grace. What kind of Jesus do you want to acquaint your kid with? What kind of Jesus do you know? Is he a demanding, finger pointing perfectionist? 

My Jesus is slow to anger and abounding in love . He doesn’t treat me like my sins deserve, whether they be blatant disregard for his instructions or careless distraction from his guidance and His compassions are new and fresh each morning. And that’s what I’ve wanted to image about our heavenly parent to my kids. Is obedience important? Yes. God tells us to train them in it, but when we are careless about distinguishing between teachable moments, understanding developmental norms and struggling with personal insecurities, we Inadvertently end up shaming our children. Young mama, trust me. Hindsight is 20/20.  You don’t want to do that. 

Here’s the thing, regardless of how little Henry’s mama responds to him as he lackadaisically picks berries, whether she lavishes him with kindness or shames him with demands and criticisms, eventually he’ll grow up and be able to pick strawberries competently. He’ll probably even take his own kiddos to the patch hoping to create at least a few decent Kodak moments. And when he does, he’ll either feel a nagging ache of shame hiding in the shadows of his soul or he’ll remember with delight his own experience accompanying his mama to the berry patch. 

You choose. Which one do you want to pass on to the ones you love best?

Henry’s family left the field at about the same time we did. His mama’s box weighed in at 6 pounds of berries. Meanwhile, our squad of 4 picked 29.5 pounds. She won’t be able to make jam or freeze berries for winter but her bowl of berries on the kitchen counter will look mighty sweet and taste even sweeter because of the kindness and grace that sourced them.

God bless, little Henry. 

Actually, God bless little Henry’s mama. 

She inspires me. 

Convicts me. 

Encourages me. 

May she feel your smile today God because she looked like Jesus.


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Hope Webster
Hope Webster is a 50-something mama of 4 amazing young women, a professor’s wife, a home educator, a hobby gardener and writer. The years fly by as she raises, releases and befriends her kids and all their people. She never knows how many places to set at the table until dinner time and that’s how she likes it best. There’s always room for one more in her tribe. In recent years, that tribe’s expanded to include international friends and refugees and she considers it a privilege to support them as they re-settle in her community. She proudly calls Michigan home, and writes her stories from there in hopes that by archiving her journey she will inspire, encourage and challenge her girls and all of her readers to embrace the fresh mercies in each new day. You can read more of her stories at hopewebster.com