Happy-Go-Lucky Moms and Their Serious Kids

When the apple falls far from the tree, life can suddenly become very uncomfortable for a mom and the child she is raising. After every parenting talk I give, a line forms of moms with questions to ask. You can bet at least one of them will be a jovial mom who is at her wits’ end with a child who can’t seem to find the silver lining in any situation. She has just one pressing question on her mind and won’t go home before she has an answer to it: “How do I make my child lighten up a little?”

Our personalities are such a given that she may as well ask: “How do I change my child’s blood type?” Still, there is a lot we can do to build a bridge between how we view life and how our little saplings do. Meeting in the middle requires that we do three things:

  • Know and accept who we are.
  • Know and accept who our children are.
  • Adapt intentionally.

Personality types are like trees—diverse, alive, dynamic, seasonal and open to growth. This mom, who lives a lot and wants her child to live at least a little, is what I call a Palm Tree Mom. She is one of four “tree types” when it comes to mothering personalities. She figuratively lives in Hawaii where the sun always shines.

Her much stricter friend, the Rose Bush Mom, usually doesn’t stand in line after a talk to ask questions. She hates waiting around. And, besides, the Rose Bush Mom usually has the answers already and won’t let anyone tell her how to raise her kids. The reserved, sweet Pine Tree Mom certainly has the patience to stand in line for answers but feels too sorry for the speaker to take up more of her time and goes home believing things will probably sort themselves out in time. The note-taking, serious Boxwood Mom has several questions. She’ll buy the parenting book in question and will actually read it! She’ll note the Facebook page and blog so she can learn even more about what was said at the talk. She’ll be the reason the speaker leaves exhausted, but she’ll also be the one worth the effort because she’ll implement the answers.

Back to the Palm Tree Mom. She is puzzled. Why would a child want to seek out the dark side of life? Why can’t all kids be cheered up by a tickle, a good joke, or a bright green cupcake? The unique personality of each child holds the clues. They each are born with a temperament as permanent as their blood type. But one that can be shaped into a work of art. The trick will be to understand their needs and to adapt to them, while using your own gifts to help them where they struggle

A feisty Rose Bush child will occasionally resist her charm on purpose; a laid-back Palm Tree child will find her tempo and intensity a little high at times, and may respond by kicking in heels and becoming stubborn just to slow down the rollercoaster life the Palm Tree Mom tends to create. But, the greatest challenge to the Palm Tree Mom’s joi de vivre is likely to come from a Boxwood Tree child, in many respects her opposite.

Step 1: Know and accept yourself

Because you are a Palm Tree Parent you:

  • create a merry atmosphere at home.
  • are quick to forgive and forget.
  • show your love to your family with ease and frequency.
  • love playing with your children.
  • can approach crises facing the family with optimism, which makes it easier on everyone.
  • use your sense of humor to cheer up the whole family.
  • see the best in your children.
  • easily leave the past behind, and ignore the worries about the future until they need to be dealt with.
  • don’t expect perfection from your children.
  • feel that the happiness of everyone in the family is central.

Step 2: Know and accept your Boxwood Tree child

Some key characteristics of this child are:

  • Focuses on details (while you may think they’re sweating the small stuff)
  • Is very anxious about making mistakes (which to you is no big deal)
  • Highly values privacy (possibly explaining why you’re sometimes pushed away)
  • Is serious about equality and fairness (and you don’t keep score, do you?)
  • Is teachable and eager to learn (This is a good one! Unless you don’t like teaching.)
  • Does not forgive easily (Oops, you don’t get away with many mistakes here.)
  • Finds fault with others’ way of doing things (and when you have several ways to do something, they can find several mistakes)
  • Struggles with negative emotions (No kidding!)
  • Chooses friends of the same mindset (and you really want to be a friend)
  • Follows instructions to the letter (What letter? What instructions?)
  • Have a vulnerable self-image (while you probably love yourself and others easily)
  • Becomes frustrated with own shortcomings (while you see all the good in everyone)
  • Becomes emotional about conflict (which in turn triggers you emotionally)
  • Are very anxious before tests (which you are convinced will be passed with flying colors)
  • Enjoys intellectual games (as opposed to real fun in the sun – your specialty as a palm tree mom)

Step 3: Adapt intentionally

Your biggest challenge will be to deal with your Boxwood’s negative emotions (sadness, despondency, pessimism, disappointment, etc.). Resist the temptation to cheer up your Boxwood impatiently. Rather climb into their black hole for a few minutes. Acknowledge that what they are feeling is valid, even when you truly feel they shouldn’t take things as seriously or personally as they do. Once you allow them to feel what they feel, their emotional side is calmed down and their rational faculties kick in so that they are able to solve their problem and find a positive. Look at a few of David’s darker psalms, and you’ll see the Boxwood patter. He pours out all his raw feelings and ends up with hope and praise. This is the result, I believe, of finding a safe place with God. An unsafe place is where someone tells you that you shouldn’t feel the way you are feeling. You can save yourself half the pity party by forgoing on the “It’s not that bad” response in favor of one of these:

  • “I can see this really is terrible for you. Let me know if you think I can help.”
  • “I wish I could make it better because you are clearly very angry. What they did really hurt you.”
  • “This is a tough one. It feels unfair and cruel that this happened to you.”

Note that none of these judge the feelings as either appropriate or inappropriate. These responses convey three things: I get the message. I care. I’m ready to help once you are calm enough.

Here are a few quick pointers for the other likely challenges with your Boxwood kid:

  • Learn to listen more and talk less!
  • You will need to be serious about the important, deep matters in your Boxwood’s life and not make light of them.
  • It comes naturally to you to amuse people with entertaining stories and your sense of humor. Be careful not to be an embarrassment to your self-conscious Boxwood.
  • For the sake of your organized Boxwood who needs a lot of structure and order, you must learn to plan and follow a routine. Enlist help from a Boxwood Mom, if need be.
  • Try to set targets with the education of your children because a Boxwood wants to know where everyone is headed.

In time, your Boxwood children will feel more accepted and emotionally safe. They will start borrowing joy from you, learn to like it, and finally find joy for themselves.

Adapted from (un)Natural Mom: Why You are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids by Hettie Brittz. David C. Cook, publisher (2016).