Just recently, my wife and I had to deal with an issue related to our 16 year old daughter. It started as a seemingly minor issue of mom’s rule of “no nail polish”. Not to bore you with the details but the rule was broken and it escalated into a bigger drama and it involved some crying. Wow, you say! How is this blog post on bonsai relate to raising a child and what’s this mom and teenage daughter drama going to lead me to? Okay, I know, this is a bit of a stretch from bonsai, pruning, wiring, etc. Child Development experts will probably have my blog shut down after this post because I’m sure from their perspective, I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. Okay, I admit, I don’t have a clue, but hear me out first and see if later I make sense. If you say I don’t make sense then you can shut me down.
Going back to the mom and daughter drama, I felt stuck in the middle. From my point of view, the nail polish was not a big deal but the principle of breaking the rule is the big deal. I’m with my wife on this, about following rules, but at the same time I’m looking at my girly-girl teenage daughter’s perspective and it is really not a big deal. She gets good grades at school, while she works and volunteers, and she’s responsible. So, how do I handle the situation, I had to dig deep into my tool box. My bonsai analogy tool box that is. Here’s the main take away that I came up with:
“Love your kids no matter what. Correct their “wrong doing” while you still show them you love and care about them.”
Okay you say, this blog is really going to be shut down. Everyone knows that already. Yes, but sometimes in the heat of the moment, when our child has done something, we may deliver the message in a way that sounds like we don’t love them.
After a reconnaissance mission and got my wife and my teenage daughter to reconcile, I reflected on what happened and I came up with the analogy of growing bonsai to child rearing. A week later, I saw a video of an interview by Bonsai Empire of the famous Japanese bonsai master Mashiko Kimura
It was a 25 min interview but what I got from it resonated what I was already thinking from the week before. Kimura said to “grow bonsai with love and affection regardless of the tree’s value … like how a mother raises a mute child”. He talks about it around 15:35 on the video.
So expanding on this idea I came up with lessons I learned from growing bonsai that are analogous to raising a child.
1) Love and Affection
As I have already mentioned above, master Kimura mentioned this as the one thing his disciples and fans from around the world must take away from bonsai. Give love and affection no matter what the bonsai’s value. It’s hard for a parent to explain to someone who does not have a child the kind of love and affection that we have for our kids. However, how many times have our kids tested that love and affection. They will make mistakes, make the wrong decisions, they disobey us, and they make us mad. They can make us so mad that we end up yelling at them or even spanking them ( I know I have been spanked and whipped when I was a kid). We may even tell them things that we may regret later. But as parents we must let our kids know that we love them no matter what. I tell my kids that when I get mad at them for something, it’s because I care so much about them that I don’t want them to turn out to be bad. It’s my responsibility as a parent to point out what they are doing wrong and correct them, out of my love for them. Correcting the actions but still loving the person.
Bonsai cannot talk and move so it’s not quite the same as rearing a child. However, in bonsai, the artist (care taker) must develop a “sensitivity” to understand the needs of a tree.
We must develop that same sensitivity with our kids. When our kids are acting up, sometimes they just need a genuine attention from you, but balancing it so we do not spoil them. From my experience as a parent, what I’m learning is that sometimes I just need “NOT” be a parent all the time and just be a listener to my kids. As parents we tend to give our kids lectures and advice too much. When we do, our kids will stop talking to us about their issues because they don’t want to hear lectures or unwanted advice.
2) Good Foundation
In bonsai, growing them starts with making sure the tree is healthy and that it’s getting all its basic needs. This starts with what I believe the foundation of a good bonsai is healthy roots and good soil. A healthy tree must have good roots to absorb the nutrients and water and therefore translates to good foliage that will generate energy for the rest of the tree and back to the roots.
A child will need more than food and water to be healthy. They need shelter, clothing, etc. , but most of all, I believe they need the tools of survival when they go out into the world. What I mean by this is the basic know how when they are on their own. This one is a little hard to explain because there’s a long list of things such as:
Respect Others, Don’t go into a strangers car, Make good decisions, etc. Essentially be a good citizen and use your common sense.
As a parent it’s my responsibility to make sure my kids have a good foundation (roots) for life. All their basic needs are met and that they have good education both at school and at home.
3) Listen (Sensitivity)
Speaking of home, I believe it is where the foundation starts for our kids. At our home, we make sure that we sit down with our kids at dinner time (no TV or any electronics), we talk to them about their day, and we get a chance to understand what’s going on with them outside home. We talk, we share, and listen.
In bonsai, as I mentioned above, one must have a certain sensitivity. Knowing (listening not with our ears but being aware of the trees needs). To know when to water, fertilize, to look for pest, when to wire, when to prune are all part of this skill set.
In bonsai, the artist is guiding the growth of a tree to ultimately create the best overall health and beauty of the tree. We do this with wires, pruning, and even controlling the amount of fertilizer and water provided to the tree.
Rearing a child is again much more complicated than that but the similarities are these, a tree left untrimmed can grow wild or a tree unfertilized will eventually get weak and die. A bonsai tree with too much fertilizer will look unproportioned and unattractive. A child unguided or left to fend for themselves could pick up the wrong habits and/or wrong friends and eventually may grow wild or worse could end up dead (say from drugs or other things). A child given too much of everything whenever they want is also not good for them.
Guidance could only work if you do it with the first three things I mentioned above – Love, Good Foundation, and Listening. We can not guide our kids if we don’t know what is happening with them.
5) Prepare for Independence
As parents, we will never stop being parents, but ultimately, we are happy to see our kids doing well and successful in life. Parents will continue to be there to support, help their kids, and even give more advice (welcomed or not). In bonsai, they say, a bonsai is never finished, because it will continue to grow. Ultimately a great bonsai will look natural and beautiful with little indication of the artist’s influence. That means the tree will be free of wires and will only need minimal pruning. In other words the tree’s “independence” from wiring is a milestone in getting a bonsai to become naturally beautiful.
As parents we need to prepare our kids for their own independence. To do this, we need to do all of the above things mentioned to be able to set them free.
Note: Child rearing is probably one of the most difficult task anyone may face with. Every child is different and every home is set-up different. This very simplified lessons I present is certainly nowhere close to covering every situation or child. With all due respect to experts out there, this is simply a perspective from a father with 8 and 16 years old girls and who happens to own bonsais.
Bonsai is my method of simplifying this very complicated task of child rearing. Doing bonsai is an activity that often times for me evoke deep thoughts about life but also clarity to things. I want to share this with anyone who may find the time to read it, not just to promote bonsai but to help bring purpose to bonsai. Bonsai is not just a tree to create, own, look at and admire, but bonsai “may” help clarify our ever confusing world. I welcome comments on this and would love to hear opinions.