Children and beans look for direction, support

Jul 13 2011 - 5:36pm


Waiting in line at the check out counter the other day, I watched a young mother's resolve totally annihilated in less than a minute by her two children, who basically gave her the option of either buying the candy they wanted there or putting up with their incessant, demanding whining. One of the two even resorted to kicking at the shopping cart until he got his way.

Part of me wanted to walk over and start kicking at the kid. Sorry, that was just blatantly honest. But I'm weary of being subjected to the antics of children whose parents practice the "let them do their own thing" philosophy. I watch, with concern, the growing list of young people in trouble because parents didn't feel the need to build some guidance and structure in their children's lives.

It's a foreign concept to me, probably because I was raised by a mom who believed otherwise. My siblings and I thought she was bothersomely concerned about how she raised us. Our lives were predictably structured: Go to school, do your homework, get your chores done, eat your dinner all gone, take a bath every day, go to bed on time. And she was there to make sure not only that we did those things, but that there was a supper to eat, clothes to change into, and a level, uncluttered place to do our homework.

We thought she was a merciless taskmaster. As we got older, we became increasingly annoyed at her insistence of how we did things. We had chores -- make our beds, clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, sweep the floor -- and we had to do them right or she'd call us back in from our play to do them again. Our lives also had a long list of don'ts: Don't leave without telling her where we were going, don't watch too much TV, don't make a mess we don't intend to clean up, don't eat just before dinner. She was relentless, or so we thought. We never, at that age, understood the "why" of such a structured life.

That structured upbringing came to mind recently when a friend shared her concern that she's being too hard on her kids. She thought she was doing the right thing by insisting they do their homework before they play. But then she read a parenting article that advised parents against structuring their children's lives, citing that it might stifle their natural tendencies. So she's worried about crowding out her children's inherent abilities by giving them guidelines. She wonders if they'd be better off if she removed the rules, let them make their own decisions, and just let them "do their thing."

After blinking a few times over this enlightened perspective, I walked her out to my garden to show her the pole beans growing there. Some of the plants have already sent their vines halfway up the six-foot mesh. I tell her that about a week ago, those vines were crawling out in every direction from the plants, grasping for something to hang onto so they could "do their thing." So I belatedly set up the structure, trained the vines to it, and stood back. They're growing like crazy, reaching upward at an incredible rate -- now that they know where they're headed. And in a very short time they'll produce, because that's what comes next, once a young plant has some support, and knows where it's going and what it's supposed to be doing.

My friend gets it.

"Soooo...," she laughs. "You're saying kids are like beans?... They, ummm, they like to know where they're headed. And how they're going to get there?"

I nod.

In time, she'll also figure out adults are no different.

You may contact D. Louise Brown at or by calling her editor at 801-625-4223.

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