I’m learning about trees.
About a month ago as part of the crew at Hildebrandt Tree Tech I helped plant over 30 trees at the new campus of Experience Life Church. It was a cold, blustery West Texas day. But when you’re on the business end of a shovel you don’t feel the chill.
After the trees were in the ground we dug out a larger circle, widening the hole. Mix in some compost with the soil, water settle it, then more soil. Finish by building a ring around the tree to hold the water, anchor the tree with straps to keep it upright in the Texas wind and mulch with wood chips. Trust me, it takes a lot longer to do it than it does to describe it.
While digging and shoveling my tail off I wondered why we were expanding on what was already a large hole. So I asked. A mistake many people make when planting a tree, according to the tree surgeon Hildebrandt brothers, Casey and Kelly, is that they don’t dig a proper hole. If the hole is too small and too tight the roots will grow in a circle instead of growing outward. In time, the tree will become root bound and effectively strangle itself.
The problem is you won’t realize that’s happened until one day 5 years later you look at the tree and realize it’s not any bigger than the day you planted it. By then it’s too late.
As parents, we do our best to help our kids grow. As they get older and become more independent, we worry about the decisions they make. We remember the poor ones we made and hope and pray they won’t make the same mistakes. Our natural tendency is to set firm, sometimes even strict, boundaries. We find ourselves saying, “no” a lot. It’s normal and every parent who wants the best for their kids understands that.
Yet I wonder…
In our efforts as parents to prevent our kids from “digging a hole” for themselves, are we failing to dig a big enough hole for them to spread their roots and grow?
I had the privilege of attending an excellent Christian liberal arts college. Without fail, every year there were a few students who came from very strict and structured homes. College was their first taste of freedom. No set time to turn out the lights and go to sleep. No one to tell them when to do their homework. No one to tell them they can’t go to a movie. Let alone no one to tell them they can’t drive 45 minutes to Sioux City at 2 AM to have breakfast with friends if they want to. And certainly no one to tell them they can’t spend a Saturday evening at a bar throwing darts, playing pool while tossing back a tall cold one with their friends.
How did they respond to these new freedoms?
Some handled the freedom pretty well.
Some were like a bouncy ball loose at Wal-Mart.
After a time we had to pull them aside and remind them, “You’ve got four years. You don’t have to have all your fun in one semester.” Most of them settled down and settled in and all was well. A small few never found the balance between responsible behavior and fun.
Certainly parenting is an imperfect process. My kids will tell you that right quick. As they enter their teenage years, I do say “no” a lot. Or as Emma said to me some time ago, “You’re a party pooper too many times, but I love you.” What they don’t understand is that I want them to hold up in the cultural winds that are blowing harder than they did when I was their age. To do that, they need a proper hole for their roots to grow wide and deep.
Digging the hole wide enough for them to spread their roots while trying to keep them from digging a hole they can’t get out of is a difficult balance. None of us parents will do it perfectly. The answer certainly isn’t to become permissive and stop saying “no”. Yet we need to think about what we want the tree to look like 5 years from now. We don’t want our kids to become root bound. If they are, they won’t grow and they certainly won’t become the tree that God desires them to be.
Perhaps it begins today with widening the hole for them to grow.
Or as my wife Brooke reminds me, “You need to work on your “yes”.
Todd A. Thompson – March 25, 2013