Tag Archives: self determination

Grower’s vision

“Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label.  Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom”

~Anonymous, as quoted in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel


On blooming timing

I have a soft spot for late bloomers, all varieties. My grandpa took up painting just a couple of years ago and sends us watercolor treasures, scenes from Italy and France and his hometown. I linger over articles about authors late to the publishing world, taking small shards of hope from their late blooming success.

My kids didn’t get teeth until they were 9 months old and that was perfectly fine with me. Sam’s now nine years and he’s only lost a few teeth. He’s the rare 4th grader with the gappy front tooth smile, up to 5 years later than some of his friends. And Maddy still cherished her doll Emily with the fidelity of a mother, long after dolls had lost their cool for most of her friends. Everything in its time, I think to myself, privately happy to extend the moments of childhood and allow them their own timetables.

That’s not to say I don’t get caught up in the comparing game sometimes. [And yes, I agree that some comparing to the norm is essential to make sure your child is developing and growing (e.g., growth charts at the pediatrician).] It’s tough not to grade yourself as a parent based on the timelines of others. Get a group of parents together and inevitably there’s a little sly comparing. You see the girl down the street walking and look at your own same-aged crawler and wonder when. You hear that your nephew’s reading books at age four and wonder should I start flashcards? Someone in your playgroup pottytrained their 1-year-old and suddenly you feel like you can’t look at another diaper. For us, it was bike riding.

Are you ready for this?

Sam just mastered riding a bike last summer.

Truthfully, we tried. For several years, we took him out and tried. Because WE were ready, because we wanted to check the box next to that accomplishment as done. But he didn’t like it, dug in his heels and refused. Didn’t see the point. You know that saying about horses and water and drinking? Try young boys and bicycles and riding. So we finally took the hint and set it aside for a while.

Eventually, Sam wanted to learn it (I think it was right after he stayed home from the scout bike rodeo). It was time, his time. Finally one week last July, with the aid of a positive and patient dad and much negotiation, he agreed to work at it for ten tries. And then, mid-week, he started rolling his bike out to the front of the house on the sly, doggedly working solo on that tricky starting moment where you lift both feet to the pedals and push. The next day he was zipping around the neighborhood, all glee and I-did-it-ness. In a couple of days, not the weeks and months of earlier efforts.

Children are bloomers. That’s what they do! They bloom–sometimes early, sometimes late, sometimes right on the average. I’m slowly learning to turn the timing over to my kids, to watch them for clues that they’re ready to grow into a new season. Trying to be more of a gardener, less of a train conductor.

Annie Waddoups lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children. She is the founder of Letters to a Parent and can be reached and annie.waddoups@gmail.com.

A Guide to Growing Stately Trees Comprised of Two Instructions and an Admonition

Instruction: Bend the Twig
If you want to grow a stately tree
You usually start with a tiny sapling,
Although some people grow their trees from seeds.
This is not an easy thing to do.

They say that as the twig is bent so grows the tree
And I think this is probably true.
So young saplings are snipped and pruned to give them shape and character
And staked out to give them rectitude.

And I think this is good and important to do,
Up to a certain point.
But who hasn’t seen and pitied dwarfed and stunted trees,
Crippled as saplings to please the grower’s sense of beauty, or ambition, or convenience.

Oh, and one more thing:
You can’t make an oak tree out of a willow sapling
No matter how much bending or binding
No matter that you desperately want an oak tree and you’ve been given a willow twig

Instruction: Hug the Tree
And then of course at a certain point,
Which admittedly varies from species to species,
The twig cannot be bent or staked out further to any good purpose.
It has become a tree.

It has become shade to someone weary from the road,
A refuge to those seeking solace, or a place for visionary youth to pray.
It has found its own reason for its existence
Fulfilling the promise of the seed and the shaping of the sapling.

What then? What more does the tree need from you?
Well, and this is important, trees never lose their need for warmth and belonging.
They need support to brace their sagging branches from the burdens of too much to bear,
And time-tested remedies to fight the infestations and blight that will surely sap their soul

They need to know that they are part of a forest,
That they belong to a family of trees,
These graceful willows, flamboyant maples and sturdy oaks,
And that this kinship of family extends forward and backward beyond the reckoning of time.

Admonition: Bend the Knee
Finally, a gentle word of counsel to you who would grow trees.
Give thanks to the Lord of the Forest.
Give thanks for the seeds.
For the soil and moisture that nourish them;
For the seasons that refine them,
And for entrusting us with their care.
For the forest in its majestic splendor,
For the music of the breeze in its leaves,
Its diversity of colors and shapes that give it beauty and purpose;
And for the Sun, its eternal beckoning call to seeds and saplings
To leave the frozen ground and reach for the warmth and light of the heavens above.

M.T. Bentley is a professor, consultant, and father of four children.

Show me who you are

Scott and I had this parenting notion: Show me who you are. This was extremely helpful. When our sons showed us who they were – as they were figuring this out – they turned out to be delightful and talented people. Not one of them fit a preconceived notion of who they might be.

Support their interests. We did not make demands on Scout participation or certain athletics or after-school activities. We had only one “must” and it was that they must take piano lessons until they could accompany others. Each of them did this and we were amazed when they continued their lessons way beyond the point where we thought they would quit. As parents, we paid for a lot of lessons in several fields, drove them to their lessons until they could drive, and we attended every activity we could, which turned out to be most of them.

Feed them and feed any of their friends, and let your home be the gathering place. This involves extra money and lots of late hours, but it was great having them know they could always invite friends over, and our home came to be known as a “safe place” to hang out, by kids and parents alike. As a result, we knew their friends well–and enjoyed the interaction. Also, one cannot underestimate what we learned while everyone was hanging out here. The casual eavesdropping opportunities were tremendous – so we had a pulse on what was going on with them and their friends. This also leads to another tip: drive them and their friends where they want to go. The parent at the wheel becomes invisible and SO MUCH info is dropped in the conversations.

Look for something to praise and compliment every single day – and then SAY it, don’t just think it. Also tell them you love them whenever they walk out the door or end a call. Every single day. We always did this, but became extra-motivated when friends of ours lost their son in a car accident and were comforted knowing that the last words exchanged were, “I love you.”

We are strong advocates of natural consequences for choices and behaviors. We also tried to be VERY consistent: we did what we said we would do (so we were careful about what we agreed to). Most of our house rules and policy evolved through a democratic family council method. Our boys had a lot to say about what happened in our home, even down to furniture choices.

We granted them three (and only three) “saves” for each school year. They had to use these saves wisely – having us bring stuff to school they forgot, etc. This helped them to be responsible for their work. If they had to stay after school for detention – my coming to get them was a “save.” Each son had only one detention in all their school years. But they each had one. Each usually used up their “saves” in a year. Now that they are grown, we have funny family stories about these.

Reflective listening is powerful and helps them know they are heard. This method also defuses arguments. As parents, we worked hard to listen and allow them to talk, then we’d feed back what we heard in a neutral tone of voice (sometimes hard to do): “You must feel very frustrated.” “Wow, that must have been hard.” “Yikes, what did you choose to do about THAT?”

Have them check in with you when they come home. We always waited up for our kids, no matter how tired we were. They had to check in with us. We placed two comfy chairs at the end of our bed, and the kids developed a habit of dropping into those chairs or on the foot of our bed to talk about their night or day. Sometimes we would be there into the wee hours. We had an unspoken policy if they wanted to talk, we would listen (and stay awake).

Let them have complete stewardship of their rooms. I RARELY went in their rooms. Laundry was done only if it was delivered to the laundry room. Each of them went through a period when they lived wearing the clothes off their floor and sent their laundry down in huge heaps occasionally. If they wanted to keep the rooms messy, then that was their choice. (Choose your battles.)

Which brings me to my final three tips for parenting teens:
Have fun with them every single week. We often had some family activity each week.
Laugh a lot. “Save the day with laughter,” as Grandma taught.
Talk (and listen) a lot. Be sure to ask questions that cannot be answered with a grunt or shrug, a yes or no. Here are two good leads, “Tell me about…” or “How did you feel when…?”

Wow. I’m going on and on. It’s kind of fun to think back on this and realize that a lot of this really worked. We still love each other. We’re friends. They are delightful and responsible adults with unique talents. I occasionally told them back then, and I’ve told them a few times since they’ve left home: I have many weaknesses and have made errors, but one thing I know about myself and about them is that I was a really good mother. They seem to believe my press statement.

Annette Paxman Bowen is the author of three books, including one about connecting with teens. She currently works as a public affairs media director.