Well, letting a child grow like a weed is not the appropriate approach.” p.198

I found that quote I scrawled somewhere that I wrote a while back.  (Awesome that I know it was on page 198, but it would help to know from where.  Ha!) It’s a simple statement, nothing earth shattering, but obviously it hit me enough to write it down.

And I agree, letting them grow like weeds and giving no direction isn’t a great approach.  That’s why we are parents after all.  But giving too much help is not right either.  There’s a constant balance to be found between helping kids and letting hem fail.  How much pruning do we do?  If you’re bored of this topic, just go ahead and skip this post, but I thought I would share two “case scenarios” of giving help to illustrate working to find that balance.

They are both stories about Claire, written with her permission:).  Because, you see, that sparkly girl of ours put herself “in the arena” a couple times right off the bat within her first couple weeks of her high school career.  And that is nerve-wracking I tell you!  Not only for the one in the arena, but for the one who loves her most (ok, along with her dad cause he loves her an awful lot as well…) watching from the sidelines.

These different experiences are worthy to share together.  So here we go.

Case Study #1)  
I have to give a little background on this one since this is part of the story.

Over the last year, Dave and I have helped Claire find volleyball.  As her parents, we saw some volleyball potential at around the same time she was starting to lose steam for her beloved soccer.  Over and over I had had the feeling (or “nudge”…I love the word “nudge”) that sure, we were late in the game.  SUPER late in these parts.  But that we should at least give it a try.

That little nudge got fortified by the fact that Elle mentioned once or twice that she sorta wished she had at least given volleyball a chance with her height (she played in junior high but decided to focus on tennis in high school…which she loved, but that height sometimes makes her curious as to where volleyball would have taken her).  Claire was growing like a weed, and although I don’t think she’ll be as tall as Elle, she’s gonna be on the tall side.

Some volleyball friends recommended we try out a rec. league just to see what we thought.  Claire, being on board for any sport, decided to give it a try: she and her good friend together in that brand new arena of volleyball.  I had the biggest smile watching them that first game…the one where they both stood there and on that court looking at each other with big eyes having practically no clue what in the world they were doing but trying their hardest.  Dave and I were so excited to see them learning.  And they were quick learners, those two.  They started to fall for volleyball.  Claire fell for it enough that she really wanted to try out for club.

She went to the open gyms and played her heart out and made the lowest team for her age group which was great, but the coach told her she could have the choice between that team and being a practice” player for the next higher up team if she wanted.  She jumped on that chance and had a pretty great season of just learning and practicing, and learning and practicing some more, working her tail off.  She loved her team and great coaches and went from scarcely being able to hit that ball a few feet in front (or above) her with absolutely no aim, to being able to hit serves over the net and semi-learn complicated rotations (those rotations can be tricky sometimes!). 

Fast forward to this summer where they held open gym at the high school for anyone thinking about trying out for the high school team.  Practices were at 5:30am for three weeks.  Claire was up and ready, bright as the sun every morning and came home glowing.  Glowing with that glow that only comes when you are stretching your capacity and doing some deep learning.

Right alongside all that practice, I swear she grew four inches in two months.  For reals.

The first week of school arrived with volleyball tryouts after school each day.

Tryouts are nerve-wracking, but she emerged victorious and was over the moon when they let her know at the end of the week that she had made the Freshman team.  All that hard work and effort had paid off.

And this is the least goofy picture I could get when she got home:

I just re-read this and I think I may have made it come off that she is this volleyball prodigy or something when in reality she has lots to learn.  She’s so new to the game.  But it sure seems to be a great fit.  She had every intention of trying out for the high school soccer team and doing both sports if she made it.  But she has decided that she wants to fully concentrate on volleyball and just loves it!

I’m so glad that as her parents we could help her find that love.  From our perspective we saw that it could work, and we were able to “prune” the opportunities to help her see if it was something she really liked.  She was the one who had to put on the full-court-press effort, but we were able to guide and support and it just felt right.

Case Study #2
Claire also decided to run for student council.  She and Grace had been scheming about this plan for a year I swear.  Grace loved student council so much last year and is Senior Class Secretary this year, so they thought it would be quite grand if they got to have that class together.

So the three of us went to the mandatory student/parent meeting right at the beginning of school.  There were only four positions available (Freshman president, vice president, secretary and treasurer), and there were a LOT of kids at that meeting!  Yikes!

But Claire decided to go for it despite the numbers.  She decided to run for Vice President.

And we got to work.

That “we” not “she” up there was intentional.  Because Grace and I were pretty excited about it.  Oh, Claire worked for it, that’s for sure. But she was a little distracted by finally being a freshman in high school for crying out loud (yes, so exciting I must agree), and also by that exciting volleyball news.  We came up with a campaign slogan together, I helped her edit her essays, and Grace and I helped her come up with a kind of funny banner idea to hang in the front hall.

(At first she was embarrassed about the idea of using that picture we happened to take at Bear Lake this last summer, but then she decided to just embrace it.  And I love that about her.)

After that initial help I backed off on the push/helping role because I figured if she really wanted it, she’d put in the effort. I was encouraging, of course, but I didn’t push anything.

She had the interview (worth fifty-percent of whether she would win or not), and came home sad thinking she had done horribly.  She (and all the candidates) made little videos for the high school news to be aired during homeroom classes.  They forgot to show hers, and then apologized at the end of class and showed them then, but none of her friends saw hers…by then all the televisions had been turned off.

I told myself all this was ok.  Let her fight her own battles.  But when she came out from volleyball practice before any of her friends that Friday with tears sliding down her cheeks and told me she just found out that she lost, every ounce of my mother-bear defenses went into gear.  I wanted to turn back time and fix everything.  Had I taught her enough?  Had I really given her the tools to work hard things like that? 

I think those are questions mothers ask often.  How do we appropriately help our children prepare for the world that is stretched out in front of them in the most positive way?

I had to remind myself (again) that failure is how we learn.  I can’t “give” her the tools for some things, she has to find them.  Boy, it sure takes me a long time to learn that simple thing!  It’s ok to back off on the “helping” as our kids grow…in fact, it is essential.  We are working ourselves out of a job, right?

“Good Timber Does Not Grow with Ease.”

If I carry that bright, capable girl of mine through all the tough stuff of course she’ll never learn to do it on her own.  She is smart and capable and strong, but after this she’s going to be even better prepared for what comes next.  Because there will for sure be another failure on the horizon, gosh dang it!  How great to be that much more prepared.

It is true what they say about time healing all wounds.  Of course, we are all going to survive.  But we’ve both learned a lot.  And now she gets to concentrate more on her newly beloved volleyball.

Go Claire!

In the wake of my pondering, my sister Saren asked if I’d do a podcast with her about all this “helping but not too much” mumbo jumbo over on her website Power of Families.  I hate listening to myself but it is HERE in case you want to listen in.


  1. Wow! Both items seem so complicated and you seem so involved in the minutia. I consider myself a pretty involved mom but this level of detailed involvement and energy and focus on the various “levels” of volleyball, and the selection process (what? Why? Let the kid play whatever sport she wants at whatever level she happens to fall into. As long as she’s part of a team getting great excercize and building friendships with teammates who cares?!?) seems WAY over the top. I mean “the lowest team?!?” Geez!

    I’ll choose beautiful, growing, thriving wildflowers lovingly watered and loudly admired vs. a pruned topiary every time. Sure does take a lot of time and energy to prune (snip, snip…ouch!) especially at 5:30am?!?!

    I wonder what is driving this culture in places like a Gilbert

    1. The point is not really the volleyball or the campaign, I just find it interesting to delve into the question of how much help to offer. It's interesting to dissect the balance we find between showing our kids all the opportunities we can to help them grow and letting them find them. You're right, it sure does take a lot of time and energy to prune, and to figure out how much…to me, that's what parenting is all about!

    2. Thinking about it more I think I'm reacting to the metaphor you chose. "Pruning" with the sense of cutting and shaping to match a preconceived idea of how our kids should be is not a match for I think about good, thoughtful parenting. I think of it in terms of nurturing, supporting, providing for, protecting, and encouraging.

      Also, I really feel like parents, especially parents of older kids, should focus their time and energy on the big picture important stuff like making sure you know your kids friends and their parents, helping maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits, making sure academics are in a good place, religious involvement, etc etc that all does take a ton of time. It's not the time so much that think is a problem, it's spending adult brain space and energy on high-school freshman minutia of which "level" of sport or when a video is shown in class that seems better left to the kids. Sure, if they want to talk it through with you listen, that's GREAT, but why get so involved in that stuff? It's a bunch of spinning wheels

    3. Good points and I totally agree. Thank you for pointing out the "pruning" word problem, that is not the best analogy because you're right, we want our kids to turn into their own best selves. And I agree that the "big picture" stuff is what we need to concentrate on. I think every parent will internalize things that come up in different ways, some are naturally bigger worriers, some have a better ability to let things roll off their backs. Perhaps this post doesn't resonate with you because you are good at focusing on the big picture. I, sometimes regretably, am not!

  2. Club is a lifestyle choice. Rec is practice and less parent element. Club is time and money and pride. There are only a dozen or so spots for each sport and the school has many hundreds of freshman.

    I’m glad she is letting another student make the soccer team.

    I like that given the many activities and experiences the kids have that already one adult child has had an I wonder if I should have tried volleyball moment. It’s so normal. Tennis can be played a lot easier over a lifetime. Just need a partner and a park in driving distance. It’s harder to play volleyball at 32.

  3. I spend so much of my mental energy on this same thing Shawni! When do I push, (or nudge) and when do I just step back and let them figure things out for themselves? In a recent conversation with a friend she asked me if I thought there was one right answer to that question. And I realized… I was approaching parenting like there WAS a right or wrong. Maybe there isn't. Maybe part of the beauty of it is how much we learn as we struggle to find that balance. Just my recent thoughts. Thanks for this post. You always give me great things to think about!

  4. I try to think about how Heavenly Father would parent. "The Currant Bush" story comes to mind. But it's not a perfect analogy. I don't think Heavenly Father would want us to "cut our kids down" so they can grow. And Heavenly Father respects our agency. But when "life" happens to us, and it feels painful, He doesn't always deliver us out of the trial. But sometimes He does. So how does He decide when to rescue us, and when to allow us to feel some growing pains? And how do I follow that pattern?

  5. Shawni, thank you for sharing, even at the risk of being criticized, I hope you know so many of us benefit from being exposed to your point of view. I love hearing about these things, especially as the time is coming with my own children where I will have less and less control over who their friends are, what team they do or don't make and so many other things that come with adolescence. I like that word, Nudge…I'm going to remember it. Thank you!

  6. Wow! Claire really has grown! Cute girl. Cute pictures. Getting up at 5:30 a.m. and putting in great effort and having that kind of dedication is admirable. I'm happy she gets to play on the freshman volleyball team. I hope she has a fun year. I also love how your kids know you support them because you are involved in and show interest in their lives. I see so many parents who are physically there, but absent from their children's lives and it is very sad to me. I love your posts and how you share so much positivity with us.

  7. I love that you used the word "pruning" because I was always taught that the reason you prune a plant is not to make a perfect plant but to promote healthy growth and to "train" the plant to be it's best self. Everyone needs pruning, redirecting, maintenance, guidance- whatever you call it it is all the same idea of helping yourself or someone else learn to be their best self and make room for all the goodness life has to offer. I also think you have done an amazing job at teaching your kids to "prune" themselves. I definitely struggle with finding the balance too. I am always so grateful you are willing to share your parenting wisdom with others. It has helped me so many times. XOXO

  8. I listened to the podcast with your sister and you and it was so fun to hear your voice! I started reading your blog just last year when my oldest son was getting ready to serve a mission because you had such great missionary mom advice and I keep coming back because I love your insights on parenting teenagers. This topic really spoke to me and one thing I really agree with is each kid is different. I didn't need to nudge my missionary son nearly as much as my now 17 year-old son and it is so hard to find that right amount of "sit back and let them go at their pace" especially when you know how important it is to them. I know how important failure is, one of the best ways to learn. Anyways, thanks for sharing life with us! I always walk away from your words wanting to be better.

  9. Thanks for all the input, and kindness too. I think what I was really trying to get at is that whether it's volleyball or running for office…or getting a job, or saving money, or speaking kindly to siblings, or learning how to talk to teachers and look adults in the eyes or making sure they clip their fingernails or be a good, loyal friend, or standing up for what is right in a difficult situation (the list could go on and on forever), there is SO MUCH parents can do to train and guide and teach. The question is when to let go and let those kids of ours learn the hard way, and when is it our responsibility to step in and direct? There has to be a gradual shift as children grow and it's so important to try to find that balance with different children, different situations, different needs, different personalities. Just an interesting thing to ponder and work out for our own unique families.

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