The Single Most Important Parenting Advice we Ever Received

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Most of our friends are not religious so we typically keep our faith to ourselves. But for today’s post you need some context. We’re a particular variety of Christian, we’re Lutheran. Robin’s wonderful Prussian-Lutheran grandma expected her to sit quietly through church and if she got restless, she’d hand over a Small Catechism to entertain myself. Tim found the denomination himself as an adult. We love the liturgy, the music, the very logical theology, the willingness to admit that there’s a lot we don’t know. And we love the vast supply of grandmothers. We’re guessing most churches have plenty of older ladies in them but it’s been our experience that Lutheran grandmothers are special. 

The Grandmothers

In every Lutheran church we’ve visited or belonged to, we’ve felt the enveloping warmth and support of the grandmothers. They sing in the choir, provide coffee and goodies in the fellowship hall every week, and offer reassurance and advice. “You’re doing such a good job,” they tell us. “God put you here because he had important work for you to do.” 

And then we had little ones and we’d arrive exhausted with a disruptive bundle of reflux and fussiness (both our babies had reflux). They’d beam and not even seem to notice the spit up, “Your children are beautiful.” They’d ask us about ourselves, treat us as human beings, not just the slaves of the cute babies. “Are you taking care of yourself?” they’d ask. “Make sure to get away and do something fun, not just run between work and children.”

When our daughter Eleanor was baptized, our pastor had just answered a call from another church about an hour away so we drove there so that he could baptize her. We only knew one other couple at the church. But there was a whole row of grandmothers at the front. 

“Such a beautiful name!” began the first. “My sister’s name was Eleanor.” 

The next chimed in, “My best friend’s name was Eleanor, it’s a strong name. She’ll be a leader.” 

And the next, “My middle name is Eleanor…”

The Most Important Advice

When Charlie was a very tiny human, when we knew he was intense and high needs, but long before we knew that he was going to stop saying “Mama” or become distraught if we didn’t walk down the stairs in the correct order, a Lutheran grandma gave us the most important parenting advice we would ever receive. “Always remember,” she told us. “He is who he is and you can’t change that. But you can help him be the best version of who he is. If God gave you a rose bush, there is nothing you can do to make him into an oak tree. You’ll only hurt him trying. But you can cultivate him to be a really beautiful rose bush.”

From then on, we called Charlie our rose bush child. Whenever he’d do something that showed that his inclinations were different from other kids, we’d know. He’ll never be an oak tree, but isn’t he a beautiful rose bush? When things were especially difficult, I’d remind myself that oak trees don’t have thorns. Roses have thorns. But we’ve planted roses all over our garden because roses are beautiful. We don’t have a single oak tree in our yard. Roses take a lot of care. They are finicky about their soil, have to be pruned and mulched and tied and top dressed. 

And yet we plant roses because we prefer roses despite their thorns and high needs because they are beautiful. 

And we prefer Charlie to be just who he is because he’s beautiful. Our rose bush child. 

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