Finding your way in the parenting jungle

They’re nothing like me!

What do we do when all the apples fall very far from the tree? I experienced this crisis when my first daughter was born: my polar opposite. She is sweet, content and easy-going; I am often a hand grenade with the pin pulled out at least half-way. To raise her, I had to learn to pipe down, bend down and s-l-o-w—d-o-w-n. But more than that – I had to adjust my goals.

We’ve all seen this in “other parents”: A mom living her violinist dream through her daughter who would much rather be an engineer, or a dad putting himself on the football field in the body of his son who would rather be a singer. It’s harder to see our own tendency to think that our kids should be just like us and ought to want the things we want. It is subtle. We don’t mean to turn our kids into someone they are not, but I have yet to meet a parent who hasn’t struggled just a bit with the apple that fell in a different zip code altogether.

Bending without breaking

Perhaps we are acutely aware of the truth that we are supposed to nurture and shape our kids, being the adults in the house, but are we prepared that they will, in turn, shape us? This shaping happens in the uncomfortable places where wills clash and personality differences cause friction. The characteristics that we prefer are challenged by the kids that don’t have them and the ungodly traits in us are brought to the surface when our kids have the gift of putting their sticky little fingers exactly where our triggers are!

Parents may wrongly assume that the task is to label these clashes as wars they should win, because they are the parents. But can’t we each recall at least one incident when our parents won a war that wasn’t a war at all? Thinking back, most of us will recall how it felt when our very identity or the core of our personality was dismissed in the name of firm parenting “for our own good.” Even well-meaning parents have limited perspective, and a good part of this perspective depends heavily on their own temperament. A driven, ambitious father with the personality type that I call “Rose Bush”, will naturally feel the need to light a fire under his laid-back “Pine Tree” son “for his own good”. His son is content with coming in third place due to a temperament design that is more about being with people than beating them at the game! Once this father understands the strengths in his son’s temperament, he can start viewing him in a new light. However, if he never gains the perspective that a peace-loving and content Pine Tree is as valuable a member of society as the go-getter, hurtful words such as “lazy sponger” or even “loser” could slip out in a moment of frustration, hurting their relationship deeply.

The driven and thorny Rose bush dad vs. the peaceful and patient palm tree son.

A meticulous and serious “Boxwood Tree” mom is often given at least one “Palm Tree” child, who finds colouring inside the lines frightfully restrictive and seems to make it her occupation to embarrass her mom with spontaneous mischief in places where manners matter most to the mom – at her workplace, in a library, at the in-laws’ house and, of course, at church. Unless the mom discovers the beauty of this Palm Tree child’s creativity, humor and out-of-the-box thinking, she may be tempted to snip viciously at the wild fronds that break the mold of what the mom assumes to be “a good kid.”

The perfectionist Boxwood mom and her popular and party-loving palm tree daughter.

All four trees in one garden – a recipe for beauty!

Let’s imagine for a moment that you have all four these trees in one home, to grow together and learn together what it means to be fully human. Rose Bush Dad is going to be very comfortable leading the household – a great positive, unless mom is a feminist! He may have challenges when his Palm Tree daughter is a teen who does not want to be led in the way he likes to lead (because I say so!). She will probably prefer to try things out for herself. The Pine Tree son will likely get along well with his Palm Tree sister, because they’re both more about the people than the task at hand; more laid back than driven and happy with a flexible schedule instead of a fixed plan. “Fixed plan” unfortunately is their Boxwood mom’s love language! Both the Rosebush Dad and Boxwood Mom are all about getting things done (Dad will emphasize speed and Mom accuracy!) As the parents grapple for control and the kids wiggle out of the restraints, all four of them will need to learn how to flex, to play, to trust, to cooperate, to earn trust and to make space for the “weird ones” they live with.

All four will have the benefit of these lessons when they are forced to deal with personality types outside of the family who act just like their family members! My son (a Boxwood Tree and Pine Tree combination – considerate, careful and steady) once said to me, “Mom, it’s a good thing you exercised such strict Rose Bush authority over me growing up. I bet I could handle the toughest boss I’ll ever face someday because of it.” Inwardly, I thought, And it’s a good thing God gave me someone who is as set in his thinking as you are, to remind me that it is not a helpful goal in life to try and change people’s minds for them!

My conclusions after (and during) many frustrating and hurtful clashes are that family is meant to be the first jungle we find our way in so that other relational jungles become more navigable, and some apples are meant to fall elsewhere and spread their own shade, lest our notion that “everyone should be like me” is given too much direct sunlight.

Does it really matter?

It really does, yes. These personalities we see in our kids have an unchangeable root called temperament. Temperament is your little saplings’ soul DNA. It is their magnetic needle that points to their true North. They are wired for purpose, and their temperament draws and pushes them towards it. When you and I ignore this push and pull that sit at the core of our children’s souls, we mess with their ability to find their way in the world. We do that every time when we send them an “error message”. Here are a few examples of things we say that mess with their inner compass:

  • “Why are you so…?”
  • “That is a useless talent. Nobody can make a living doing that!”
  • “Can’t you be more obedient like your sister?”
  • “What is wrong with you?!”
  • “I can’t deal with your moods. Just stop being so sensitive!”

These statements make kids believe that they should change who they are, how they experience life and what they do with their lives. Imagine growing up hearing the opposite kind of messages – messages that affirm and encourage your uniqueness:

  • “I enjoy you. You keep surprising me with your ideas!”
  • “You have special interests and talents. I can’t wait to see how you will use them.”
  • “Have you noticed how your sister does whatever she is told, while you try to come up with your own rules? I think it means she will do a job where the rules are super important. You will probably do something someday where invention and new ways of doing will be more important than the way we’ve always done them. Still, I need you to keep our house rules so that we can all get along, okay?”
  • “I don’t understand some of your actions, but I want to learn. Please tell me how you made this choice?”
  • “When you are calm, we will talk some more.” Then, later, whe the child is calm: “You express your feelings with tears and words and sometimes with your body too! I want to help you do that in a way that makes you feel better, without making other people feel upset. Let’s talk about being angry…”

All of these better responses to a child’s difficult behaviours are easier when we understand our temperament and our child’s. Understanding that doesn’t mean we just tolerate and accommodate; it means we understand each personality style’s needs and the areas in which they can grow!

A Tall Trees Kids Profile Report gives tips in six areas of parenting, so that we don’t allow unhelpful attitudes or behaviour to grow into character issues, and so that we address the needs that make our children feel safe and loved. When we want to develop the budding leader in our child, we find those tips too.

Two of the six areas of our child’s temperament described by the Tall Trees Kids Test Report

Even though the example we use here only distinguishes four tree types, temperament literally means “mixture” and many of us and our kids have combination personalities. The test helps us pinpoint the unique mixture of traits in each of our kids and gives personalized tips for their particular nature. We even have the opportunity to add the opinions of our child and two more adults who can complete the test with us. It makes for a clearer idea of who they may be and what they need most from us as their parents.

Scenarios like these are brought to life with animation and voices in the Tall Trees Kids Test to help you identify your child’s personality. Will your child take charge at the tap, pretend to be Santa, get ducks in a row to cope with the chaos, or keep himself busy somewhere in a corner, whishing he was alone?

Here are just a few tip examples if you are a fairly serious Boxwood mom raising one of those eternally optimistic Palm Trees:

 

  • You two see the world differently—you are serious about everything and the Palm Tree is serious about almost nothing! Ask yourself, “Does it really matter?” before reacting sharply.
  • Your Palm Tree doesn’t have the same standards and attention to detail as you, so express clearly what you expect.
  • You might not want to stand out, but your Palm Tree wants to be different. Enjoy the unique nature of your Palm Tree and be mindful that attempts to change your child to be more like you will feel like rejection.
  • You may easily see only the things your child doesn’t do perfectly and overlook the charming aspects of your Palm Tree’s exceptional nature. You may see things in black and white and believe yours is the only right way. Allow for your Palm Tree’s inventiveness.
  • Learn to play and relax with your Palm Tree, even if you don’t have much inner-child in you. It’s a gift of free therapy!
  • Your need for a large personal space can easily cause you to pull back when your Palm Tree wants to hug or kiss or constantly be close to you. Just remember how important these intimate gestures are for your Palm Tree, and bite your lip if need be. If you can learn to enjoy it, all the better!
  • Remember how quickly children grow up, and never wish away your Palm Tree’s childhood, just because you want to see maturity and responsibility in your child. Remember that your Palm Tree keeps you young at heart.
  • Your Palm Tree may play on your feelings to save her from consequences when she has been irresponsible. Play all the other games but not this one!

Enjoy the trees in your unique garden, and when it turns into a jungle, let one of the Tall Trees personality pros help you find your way through it with a workshop or consultation, or consider reading
“Growing Kids with Character” to learn more about nurturing your child’s potential.

Contributed by Hettie Brittz of  Tall Trees Profiles
Family Ministry Consultant Celebration Church of the Tri-Cities
+1 423 723 9039

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