Yesterday, I planted some vincas in a flower bed right outside the back patio door. I have been doing this for a number of years because not only do they seem to like that particular spot, but because I love the pop of color outside my window during the summer months. Where some flowers I've had out there have curled up in the fetal position and begged for mercy from the unrelenting Alabama sunshine, the vincas seem to thrive. So, being the creature of habit that I am...I made the trek to Lowe's and bought four flats...two white and two hot pink. (Of COURSE, I bought pink! :))
Yesterday was the big day for getting them in the ground. I bought new garden soil, planted them, and then watered and fertilized them. I even barricaded them from the big lab/rottweiler/setter mix from next door...affectionately known as "Black Dog" because he likes to lay in the dirt there in the winter months. I expect that they will do much like their older cousins did in that spot...be low maintenance and will even warn me that they need water by looking a little pitiful. After a good soaking, they will bounce back amazingly.
I have high expectations for these flowers because I have seen how this particular variety does in the conditions I have to offer. I expect to be pleased because I have a history of being satisfied with them, and I always enjoy the compliments I get on how beautiful they are. I like seeing them as I float around the pool on a lazy summer day. I appreciate knowing that at least one section of my yard looks somewhat landscaped.
It reminded me, though, as I dug holes in the dirt, that sometimes our children are like flowers in the garden. They are planted in good soil, are fed and nourished properly, receive the sunshine of our praise, and are protected from what we think is detrimental to their survival. We nurture them, enjoy them, and have expectations for their performance. We try to weed out the bad influences, keep the pests from devouring their spirits, and try to balance the elements.
Many mothers understand instinctively what their children need. In fact, a friend of mine states that a mother is "only as happy as her most unhappy child." True words. We tend to feel what they feel, do all that is within our power to smooth the path, and applaud the loudest when things are going well. We provide shoulders to cry on, incentives to perform, and prayers on their behalf...but we also want them building muscle to survive setbacks and cultivating the inner strength to endure adulthood. We give them family roots to build on and spiritual wings to soar into heaven. Or at least that's what most of us are trying to do.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we do all that we can and something tragic intervenes. Or we feel that the stork got lost in flight and dropped a child at the wrong house. Sometimes we feel like we have failed because we pushed one too hard...or another one not hard enough. There is competition between siblings that turns into a battle royale. We look at the performance of other parents and are envious that they have dodged the problems that we live with every day. We feel a gnawing disappointment in ourselves for not seeing warning signs, making poor choices because we didn't invest the time to think things through, or by being too strict or too permissive.
We have to remember that we can't control the outcome...we can only control the environment. We can only do the best that we can do. We can't be someone we are not, can't provide what we don't have, and or be prepared for everything life throws our way. But much like I did with planting my vincas...we can do a few things that have proven to be successful.
We can let our children feel the weight of their bad decisions. I don't mean that we should let those decisions break them...but they should understand that if they don't study...they come home from the college of their choice. If they spend all of their money at a bar...they figure out how to wrangle meals for the next week...or two. If they loan out their clothes or their car and something happens to them...that they either lose those items or figure out how to replace them on their own. Far too many parents hire a lawyer, write a check, or chalk it up to youth...instead of understanding that they really do have to grow up sometime. Unless, of course, you want them dependent on you for life.
We can encourage our husbands to model the husband they want their daughter to marry one day. A girl's impressions of herself primarily come from her father. If she is loved and valued...she expects that out of a man. If she is criticized or unaccepted...she will almost always settle for less. Men with teenage daughters especially should be taking them to dinner...buying them a new dress...opening the lines of communication. A daughter knows her mother and other female family members will always be there. She also realizes that her father can ignore her, walk away, or teach her by his apathy that she isn't worth his time. It is not enough to provide for her...although that certainly is his responsibility. It is his job to prepare her heart for marriage. To uncover her uniqueness. To convince her of her beauty and her worth. Too many fathers assume that their responsibility ends at the paycheck. No. His attention, admiration, and acceptance are critical to making her the woman she is meant to be.
We can show up. Most of us have no problem with sitting in the stands, being on the other end of the phone or attending the high points of life. But what about when things aren't going well? When they need to hear the truth? When we have to bite our tongue when "I told you so" is just screaming to get out? We sometimes just need to be there. Not preaching, teaching, or helping. Just being. Talking about anything and everything but the elephant in the living room. We serve them best by being a haven that they run to when the world or someone significant has let them down.
We can trust God with them. Often, we try to steer them in the direction that will bring them what we believe is best. We fail to understand that the verse "train up a child in the way he should go..." is really more complex than it looks. Yes, you must train a child to do the right things. That's fairly obvious. What isn't as obvious is the "way he should go" part. We emphasize the "way" and I believe that God means for us to emphasize the "should" instead. We try to send them down the path that will give them a decent shot at success. What we need to be focused on is sending them down the road using the unique gifts and inspirations that God gives them. Of course, they are extensions of our family. But they are also wonderful creations of God that may or may not exceed our expectations for them on an overall basis. But if we accept that they may be wired for success differently than we anticipate...and enthusiastically support them...we will be amazed at what God's plan is for their lives.
We can teach them what is truly important. People...not things...matter. Too many kids today think the reverse. Too many parents today teach the reverse.
We can pray for them...their friends...and their future spouses. After all, these people will somewhat set the course of their lives. We will always be in their heads...but these people are in their day to day interactions. Pray diligently.
I hope that the garden of your family blooms beyond your expectations just like I am expecting my vincas to make me proud over the next few months. We have such a short time as parents to make an impression, relatively speaking. Don't waste a moment.