We had our trees trimmed today. They had grown way out of control. We had left them alone for quite a while, and they just chose to grow up on their own—a little sloppy.
As I watched the workmen, it occurred to me that pruning trees is like raising children. If you don’t trim them back when needed, they can get way out of control—and the longer you wait to step in, the harder it is to do the cleanup.
The more I thought about it, I began to see even greater significance in the analogy. Roses, for example, will bloom more heartily if you trim them regularly. My wife, our resident gardener, explained that trimming off spent blossoms actually encourages new growth and strengthens the flowers.
Trimming trees means giving them shape. As our children grow up around us, it’s important that we also work to shape them, and doing so seems very natural to me, just as it does in the garden.
When our offspring are young, we take care of them. We feed them and protect them (as we would flowers in our home or green house). As infants, we essentially grow them hydroponically. We liquefy their diets and control their environment completely. As they get older, we let them spend some time on the windowsill—getting direct sunlight, and giving them a different type of food.
When they start going to school, they become exposed to more elements—rain, wind and the need to share some of their resources with others. Nonetheless, the environment is still pretty controlled. As they get older, they learn to deal with slightly more adversity. Assuming that most of them are safe at school (a ridiculous thing for me to have to write), the lucky among them are living in nice little flower pots that we maintain, giving them adequate food, adequate light, adequate soil and adequate protection.
College is a slightly different story. In college they have to fend for themselves. Sure, we put them on a meal plan, and they live with other students, but college is, for the most part, a walled garden in which they gain perspective from the variations in their species (other kids who have different ethics and values). Even so, they are protected from many of the realities of daily life, like fighting to be heard and earning a living.
Throughout this evolution, it is our job as parents to teach them how to grow toward the light, how to find nutrients in the soil, and how to store their energy for times when the rain doesn’t fall.
My mother used to say “Your job as a parent is to teach your kids to fly in all kinds of weather, so that when it comes time for them to leave the nest, they will know how to navigate their way in the world.”
From the very start, my parents were influencing my decisions by living in a way that was consciously designed to define their expectations of us—by defining their expectations of themselves. In their own behaviour, they spent hours reinforcing honesty, teaching us to be kind, and teaching us to follow the rules—even if it meant walking farther to use the crosswalk or taking time to return the shopping cart.
These examples sunk in because children are “would-be” learners. If they see others behave in a certain manner, they learn from that behaviour.
When it came to fertilizer, my parents were far stingier than JoAnn and I. JoAnn, my wife with a degree in education, taught me early in our parenting journey that praise for good behaviour was a far better way to operate than constant criticism. “I like the way you’re sharing with your brother.” “I like the way you’re sitting still at the table.” This approach seemed to really resonate with our kids, who usually complied after we expressed appreciation for their good behaviour.
It’s also very important to say NO. If you think about the “real world,” you have to agree that hearing “no” happens more often than hearing “yes”—and that an important part of growing up is learning to deal with adversity.
Our kids are grown now. They live in the “real world.” They’re outside the walls of any particular garden. They still appreciate nourishment from us, but they’re busy building their own lives. In fact, one of them is actually a parent now, watering his own toddler every day.
So, think of your children as flowers in your garden. If you don’t like the direction in which they’re growing, try to lovingly trim them so that they straighten up. If you’re happy with the way they’re progressing, appreciate them and toss a little extra love their way. Be sure you all get enough sun.
Admire the blossoming miracles that are your children and remember it’s up to you to teach them well and show them how to grow strong.
Richard Greenberg is a happily married father of four and the author of “Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around.” An observer and an efficiency expert who devoted more than 30 years of effort and expertise to the entertainment industry (as a post-production executive, editor and writer/producer), Greenberg is also a patented inventor, published songwriter and popular public speaker. You can read more of Greenberg’s parenting tips, tools, and triumphs on his blog, Common Sense Dad and follow him on Facebook or Twitter.