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. Strange, cactus-like plants. They were huge and there were so many of them. I wanted to cry. I had a meeting booked, so could leave before I could explode or complain. I returned a few hours later to find the plants dotted around not just their flat, but also all around my house. What shocked me was how great it looked. It suited the character of my house! Upon close inspection, the plants are downright ugly. Zooming out, though, they add to a pretty picture.
Our kids can be like that. 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 stand back, our children are part of a beautiful picture called “family” and we can never imagine our lives without them.
My mother-in-law has all these plants labeled with white plastic signs that you see in pots at a nursery. They tell whether these plants will flower in winter or spring 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. Grandma clearly knows them like they’re her kids.
My kids are as unique as these plants around my house. My one child “flowers” when there is an endless stream of activity and possibility; the oldest flourishes in peace and quiet in her own bedroom; and my middle child does not flower a lot – but has some thorns that come out in all seasons. He does, however, have qualities the others can only dream of. That is what character means. It means this unique blend of characteristics that are sometimes called temperament.
These differences are delightful, yes, but am I the only parent who finds them confusing as well? Growing kids with character is a concept and book title that came from my own journey through the jungle with my own kids. My team at Evergreen Parenting strive with me to help parents find their way through the parenting jungle by understanding these unique patterns in our children. The closer we look, the more flaws we will find, but at the same time, if we are willing to look for a unique need, unique keys to relationship and unique gifts in each child, parenting becomes an adventure full of rewards. 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 and 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 expect. The four main labels I chose to describe the natural and inborn character of a child are The Pine Tree, The Rose Bush, Lollipop Tree, and Palm 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 sideline 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.
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.
The Lollipop 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 kids are enthusiastic, eruptive, ecstatic, energetic, and brimming with entrepreneurial ideas. Whoever 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 Lolli-Rose child, for instance, will be a very hard worker, but very 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 pal-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? Not likely!
Clearly, their needs will differ dramatically. We will build a 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 will need us to rediscover the child within us and to play, play play! The Lollipop 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! Suppose for a minute you are in a hospital with the following situation: A mom who insists on normal vaginal labor without painkillers comes in with a breach baby about to be born. 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!) It won’t be your clinical background, competencies, or experience that will determine how you experience the situation that will now ensue.
For the sake of the mother and the baby, you will probably convince her that it is in her best interest to have an emergency caesarian. 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 her for not giving her a go at it! Or these two roses may look past the patient altogether and unsympathetically announce: “There is no way. Get her ready for theater!” The pine tree nurse will gently take the mom’s hand, look her in the eye in a calming manner and remind her that the most important thing you are now considering is her and the baby’s well-being. This Florence Pine Tree Nightingale will assure her that all will be well.
In the meantime, the Lollipop nurse will have taken everyone’s vital signs four times and will have seen an emerging pattern, will be able to predict the hours left before you run into danger with mom or baby or both. The lollipop doctor will have called ahead already to get theater prepped for the worst-case scenario. In fact, he will have already let his wife know not to save his dinner as it will be a long night. Lollipops tend to anticipate the worst.
The palm tree doctor will have looked in the mirror once to fix his hair as this mom is quite attractive and seems to have come in alone … (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 will have noticed the doctor’s effort in front of the mirror and will have done the same, because 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 could have gone on to the detriment of this mother and baby. Professional clashes in this team would have had more to do with temperament differences that with any professional differences because the pines will want to please the patient, the lollipops 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 that mother, 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 as though it were my child’s first major achievement and I’d want the gorgeous Palm tree doctor to tell me he has never seen a more glowing mother. I’d love for the Lollipop nurse to help the baby latch exactly right and I’d follow her regime refeeding and all the rest religiously. The Lollipop 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 and the Rosebush doctor and nurse will be credited for their quick action.
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 our children and their emerging character … It is not about raising kids who are punctual and neat and confident and loyal and focused and creative. It is about finding even one of these characteristics in our child, noticing it, building it out into a skill and exploring with our children how they can contribute this inborn characteristic to their sports team, their family, their classroom and in future also to their marriage, their workplace and the world. It is about helping each child flourish according to their nature. Surely, I don’t expect every potted plant to burst forth in white and red and orange next spring! I’d be content for each to bloom in one color.
Hopefully, you and your children are planted where you can truly flourish. If you suspect that you need to discover more about your own “tree type” or that of your kids, please consider attending an Evergreen Parenting Course. If, however, you want to take it further and already have a passion for families, child-raising, or temperament, won’t you consider signing up for one of the training dates in 2014? You can become an Evergreen Facilitator who helps families understand temperament, healthy authority, and childhood behavior. Please contact Annatjie van Zyl at [email protected] for all the training dates and details and visit www.evergreenparenting.co.za for more about courses and product, such as the book Growing Kids with Character. Perhaps families are not your focus, but you are passionate about adult profiles, team building, and leadership development. Then Tall Trees Profiles would be right up your alley. Adult and teen online profiles and workshops are available, as well as facilitator training. Visit www.talltreestraining.com for more about this opportunity. You can even log in and determine your own Tree Type today by completing the Tall Trees Leadership Profile for adults online!