Finding Your Way in the Parenting Jungle
My in-laws recently moved into our garden flat but months before the removal truck arrived, a huge trailer loaded with what seemed like their entire garden came crawling up the driveway. It was loaded with potted plants. Not just any kind, though; the kind that I don’t like – cactus-like plants. They were huge and there were so many of them. I wanted to cry. I left for a meeting, which may have saved some relationships, and upon my return found the plants dotted not just around their flat, but also all around our house.
What shocked me was how great they looked!
They suited the character of our home! Upon close inspection these plants are downright ugly. Zooming out, though, they add to a pretty picture.
My mother-in-law had all these plants labelled with white plastic signs like the ones you see in pots at a commercial nursery. They tell whether these plants will flower in spring or summer and they describe the color and shape of the flowers to be expected soon. Some are in full sun and others are in the shade – on purpose. She clearly knows them as if they were her kids.
Your kids and mine can be like those potted plants.
The closer we look, the more upset we become about this bad habit that won’t subside despite our strictest discipline and that good habit that is not yet learned in spite of huge incentives. However, when we manage to stand back and regain perspective, our children are part of a beautiful work of art called “family.” The unique character of each child adds to this. My youngest child “flowers” when there is an endless stream of activity and possibility; the oldest flourishes in peace and quiet in her own bedroom; our middle child flowers in rare but magnificent bursts while exhibiting thorns in all seasons.
This unique blend of characteristics is sometimes called temperament. Temperament literally means “mixture.” These individual differences are delightful, yes, but am I the only parent who finds them confusing as well? When we try to look for unique needs, unique keys to relationship and unique gifts in each child, parenting becomes a rewarding adventure. On this journey we discover more about ourselves, our colleagues, our spouses – in fact, we learn more about being human.
Four basic “tree types” seem to emerge when we look closer. I have given them friendly labels that are meant to speak of dynamics, seasons and growing potential. Labels should aid us in understanding rather than in boxing others in. These names given to types of people are like the plastic signs in my mom-in-law’s pot plants. They will help us know what to expect, what to give each child and which “flowers” to look forward to. The four main labels I chose to describe the natural and inborn character of individuals are the Pine Tree, the Rose Bush, the Boxwood Tree and the Palm Tree.
The Pine Tree
- The Pine Tree child is loving, laid-back, low-need and sometimes downright lazy. Quietly listening in the background, almost never speaking up or demanding attention, we can miss their needs completely. They sit on the side-line looking in. They think but don’t speak. Their gentleness hides a will of steel that emerges when we try to pull them out of their comfort zone. They are as hard to move as a pine tree in nature but emit the same fragrance of calm as the real McCoy.
- The Rose is feisty, fearless, firm and forward-looking. These kids have a temper and a strong will to be in control. They don’t seem to need our nurturing – they just need us to do as we’re told (by them)! Those little thorns sting us as their words can be very cruel. But when given responsibility and a challenge, they make the most beautiful “roses” and they make our chest swell with pride as they move up and up the ladder.
The Boxwood Tree
- The Boxwood Tree is pedantic, perfectionistic, pleasing in order to stay out of trouble, more pessimistic than the others and very prim and proper. They are the teacher’s pet because they carry out instructions to the t, but can get so anxious and uncertain that we sometimes feel we have a patient instead of a child.
The Palm Tree
- The Palm Tree kids are enthusiastic, eruptive, ecstatic, energetic and brimming with entrepreneurial ideas. Who ever knew a child could be so original! They hate being alone, so peaceful me-time for their moms is out of the question. They will have fun. That is their motto. Unless we are part of the fun, we may become the one made fun of …
And, of course, not all children are “pure-breads.” No insult intended. Humans are so unique that we are mostly a mixture of the four types. A Box-Rose child, for instance will be a hard worker, but equally likely to correct their parents on every little thing they see differently. Their need to control every detail will likely be the cause behind most of the discipline moments between them and their parents. The Palm-Pine child will be extremely easy-going and probably affectionate, but will their schoolwork be done on time and without you looking over their shoulder? Probably not!
Clearly their needs will differ dramatically. We will build relationship with a Pine Tree by being there – calmly and without demands, to enter their peaceful world and to listen – even to what they are not saying. This approach will irritate a Rose Bush, who would prefer a good wrestle or a stiff competition as a means of interacting with us. The Palm Tree will need us to rediscover the child within us and to play, play, play! The Boxwood will need us to embrace their complexity (and perplexity at times) with as much understanding and patience as we can muster.
But what about us? We have our own tree type, too! Allow me to address all the moms. Suppose for a minute you are in a hospital with the following situation: You are about to give birth. You insist on natural labor without painkillers, but your baby is breach. I will over-dramatize for the sake of painting a clear picture: In the ward are four doctors – one of each tree type – and four nurses – also representing the entire forest. (Lucky mother to have such a team on standby!)
For your sake and the health of your baby, most members of the clinical staff will probably try to convince you to agree to an emergency C Section. A Rose Bush doctor with oodles of confidence in his own abilities may want to try to turn the baby all by himself and be the hero. Rose Bushes like such challenges! The Rose Bush nurse will be sure that she can in fact do it even better than the doctor and may resent you for not giving her a go at it! Or these two Roses may look past you altogether and unsympathetically announce: “There is no way. Get her ready for theater!” The Pine Tree doctor will gently take your hand, look you in the eye in a calming manner and remind you that the most important thing he is now considering is your and the baby’s well-being. The Florence Pine Tree Nightingale nurse will assure you that all will be well.
In the meantime the Boxwood Tree nurse will have taken everyone’s vital signs four times and will have seen a pattern emerging, will be able to predict the hours left before the team of doctors and nurses runs into danger with mom or baby or both. The Boxwood doctor will have called ahead already to get the theater prepped for the worst case scenario. In fact, he may even have let his wife know not to save his dinner as it may be a long night. Boxwood Trees tend to anticipate the worst, blast details through all channels and leave nothing to chance.
The Palm Tree doctor will have looked in the mirror once to fix his hair if you are remotely attractive … (just kidding!) The Palm Tree nurse will be upbeat and optimistic. She will cheerfully highlight the benefits of the C Section and will talk encouragingly about the wonderful competencies of the staff who will all ensure as a team that everything goes brilliantly. She’ll cheer you up. She will have noticed the doctor’s effort in front of the mirror and will have done the same, if the doctor is not too unattractive, either!
And all of this being said and done, the Rose Bush doctor will probably make the call. Or, alternatively, when there is an imbalance in this team, the fights can go on, because the Pines will want to please you, the patient, and in so doing avoid drama; the Boxwoods will want to do everything by the book; the Palms will want all to end in happiness and the Roses will want to act quickly.
If I were you, I’d want the Pine Tree doctor to catch the baby so that his calmness and gentleness could be the first thing my baby feels. I’d like the Pine Tree nurse to wipe my face, hold my hand and cover up my dignity wherever possible, while observing everything and telling me that all is going according to plan. I’d like the Palm Tree nurse to announce the Apgar of 9 enthusiastically as though it were my child’s first major achievement and I’d want the Palm Tree doctor to tell me he has never seen a more glowing mother. I’d love for the Boxwood nurse to help the baby latch exactly right and I’d follow her regime re feeding and all the rest religiously. The Boxwood doctor can tell me exactly how serious the situation could have been and how it was touch-and-go, so that I have a dramatic story to post on my Facebook along with Baby’s first pics. The Rose Bush doctor and nurse will be credited for their brilliant gut decisions.
On a serious note: Can you appreciate how wonderful it can be when instead of believing we all need to be the same and have the same strengths, we can work and live together in diversity but still in teamwork? This must be the ultimate purpose of doing any personality profile – to understand and to be understood, in order to achieve more together.
To get back to parenting, knowing our own temperament type is absolutely crucial, because it inevitably becomes the tinted glasses through which we view our kids and every aspect of parenting – nurturing, disciplining, mentoring … It also determines how we would have experienced the dramatic birth in the jungle described earlier. A Boxwood Mom needs things to go according to plan and hates surprises. She’s likely to be absolutely traumatized if this was her story. I can see her tearfully relaying the events, speculating on how it could all have been avoided. The Palm Tree Mom thrives on adrenaline and as long as her baby is fine, she’s likely to enjoy retelling the dramatic events – for the response, not for sympathy. A Rose Bush Mom is likely to be angry that she couldn’t do things her way and may even blame one of the staff members or her doctor for the whole thing. A Pine Tree Mom has the ability to make peace with the outcome and retain her big picture perspective – everyone survived, after all.
Knowing who you are as a mom (and dad, too, of course) helps immensely when we hit those situations where we feel completely unequipped for parenting. We find ourselves saying that God may have made a mistake. Someone else would do the job much better than we can. If we could discover how God’s design has equipped us uniquely for the task of raising very unique children, the jungle starts clearing and the mist evaporates so that we can see more clearly what to do next to turn our family jungle into a garden where things aren’t pretty or perfect, but still part of the artwork of family life.
Hettie Brittz is the author of several parenting books and the Evergreen Parenting Course published in her home country, South Africa. She is the co-developer of www.talltreestraining.com where teens and adults can complete Tall Trees Leadership Profiles to discover their “Tree Type” leadership styles and to learn how to apply the information in the workplace, at home, in marriage and for personal growth. Her first international publication, (un)Natural Mom – Why YOU are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids by David C Cook Publishers. Heittie and her husband Louis have two teens and a daughter in middle school. Facebook.com/HettieBrittzAuthor