Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Everyday Grace:
Children require careful pruning

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the June 9, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell I called an arborist to come and estimate what it would cost to get my trees and bushes under control. Having lived in the country where we had room to let everything grow unchecked, I knew nothing of pruning. For 10 years we had let the shrubs and trees on our city lot fend for themselves, and now it was clear even to the untrained eye, they were in need of trimming. One huge bush blocks our dining room picture window. A heavy snowstorm had left an ugly column of broken and dead branches down one of our fir trees.

I expected the man to take a quick look around and quote me prices and time frames. The button on his bronze-colored work shirt should have warned me. It read, “It’s time for a rebellion.” As he walked around my fir trees and lilacs, he began to talk about living organisms, and how every action causes some reaction.

I wanted to say: Can’t you just hack off a bunch of limbs and get these bushes down to size? But the longer he talked, the more I realized that 10 years of neglect couldn’t be snipped off in a day.

I learned the shapely shrubs I see in other people’s landscapes require diligent attention. One needs to watch them closely year after year, both cutting away and allowing growth with an appreciative eye.

“I can see you’re not a gardener,” said the arborist at one point. Swallowing my defensive retort, I meekly replied. “I would like to be. I don’t seem to have the time.”

Later I wondered if lack of time is really the issue. Could it be my approach to difficult tasks that is the trouble? I knew the greenery around the house was growing. About five years ago, I had begun to understand the need for pruning, but I had ignored the niggling reminders as they leafed out each spring. Now that I could no longer sidestep the problem, I preferred brandishing a chainsaw rather than judiciously using pruning shears over time.

Upon reflection I see this same danger presents itself to parents raising children. Caught up in the day-to-day routine, I miss the little twigs that can tell me which way the wind is blowing. Like when a week goes by and I realize I haven’t really connected with my teenager. She has gone off to bed without saying goodnight, and somehow I have not noticed.

Or I’ve ignored the disrespectful remarks from my adolescent until they have grown into an outburst which I cannot sidestep. Then I over-react, meting out harsh punishment. Instead of helping the child learn to correct his behavior, this inspires angry defensiveness and feeds the growth of mistrust and rebellion. How much more effective it would be if I paid loving attention to my child, trimming the undesired behaviors away while they were still small shoots, encouraging the beginnings of healthy habits to grow into flowering branches.

Like the arborist, parents need a certain patience, standing back to get a long view of how the young branches are spreading. A gnarly bit of limb might require special treatment.

On the other hand, a parent can be overly eager with the pruning shears, constantly watching to nip off anything suspicious looking. Never allowing a child to make a mistake or try something that might not turn out perfectly can stunt her growth. If we allow our children some wild suckers, they can practice pruning themselves.

Before he left, the arborist told me one choice is to pull up some of my landscaping by the roots and start over with new plants. God does not give me this option with my children. There are serious consequences to letting them grow wild, or shearing them into bonsai creatures. Children are resilient and can recover from a mistake here or there with the clippers. It helps me to remember we are all in the care of the Great Gardner whose green thumb cannot be outdone.

© 2005, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Farrell is a Spokane free-lance journalist and children’s writer. Her new book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, will be published in September by St. Anthony Messenger Press.)


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