When to Prod and When to Leave Alone

The other day, I had the kind of conversation I’m sure every mother dreams of having with her daughter.

lilac sprout

It was about a topic that has befuddled young and old for ages, but it had nothing to do with God’s sovereignty or how you know you’re in love or the best way to tell if a watermelon is ripe.

Lilly was doing homework at the kitchen island when she looked up and asked me a question that had apparently been swimming around in her lovely head for quite some time.

“When I’m writing,” she said, “I have a little mind war with myself about whether I should put effect or affect. How do you know which one to use?”

Be still my beating heart.

If this question plagues you too, Grammarist.com answers it this way: To affect something is to change or influence it, and an effect is something that happens due to a cause. When you affect something, it produces an effect.”

My response to Lilly was something to that effect, though not nearly as concise. But our little discussion didn’t bless my heart simply because I love words so much (although I do, especially ones that are used properly). It thrilled me even more because of the growth it represented.

Four or five years ago, I doubt Lilly was even aware that affect and effect were two different words, and she likely wouldn’t have been able to spell either of them correctly.

She’s been a voracious reader since second or third grade, and her ability to recall what she has read has always astounded me. But it’s only been in the last couple of years that her writing abilities and attention to detail in her schoolwork have truly blossomed.

Her development in this area has been a joy to watch, but it didn’t come because I hired a tutor for her or worried to her elementary school teachers about spelling issues (ahem).

It came because she has a gift, and it takes time for gifts to grow. Yes, instruction and practice are important, but sometimes the best thing to do to encourage the development of something is nothing at all.

As I watch this play out in Lilly’s life, it gives me great hope for what is to come for younger sister Molly. When she struggles with something academic, I remember what’s happening with Lilly and I’m less inclined to push and prod and try to cajole her into learning faster (as if that ever works anyway).

The two of them have different strengths—what comes easily to one does not always come so easily to the other, and vice versa. This makes my job as their mom more challenging, but also much more interesting.

Truth is, I am fascinated by my children—at the way God wired each of them so beautifully, and how that wiring is so obvious in how they think, speak and move. I’m also grateful that ultimately, He is the one directing their growth and development, along with their steps, all the days of their lives.

My conversation with Lilly about affect and effect reminded me of a poem I read a long time ago. I normally don’t care for poetry, but “Woman with Flower” by Naomi Long Ladgett made an impression that has never left me.

I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you. Such watchful nurturing may do it harm.

Let the soil rest from so much digging and wait until it’s dry before you water it.

The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction; give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.

Much growth is stunted by too careful prodding, too eager tenderness.

The things we love we have to learn to leave alone.

I’ve seen these beautiful words transpire in my own flowerbeds many times. Lately, I’m finding the analogy also applies to parenting. And oh, for the wisdom to know when to prod and when to leave alone.

Lois Flowers

P.S. Linking up this week with Kelly Balarie at Purposeful FaithJennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory, Holley Gerth at Coffee for Your Heart, Missional Women and Grace & Truth.

26 Responses to When to Prod and When to Leave Alone

  1. Aimee Imbeau says:

    Isn’t wonderful to watch our children come alive with learning? When you see them working through things such as effect and affect? I think when they start figuring these things out on their own, they understand them better. I have to remind myself that they are still so young – even though mine are 9, 12 and 14 – but they don’t know as much as I do, but they will get there. They are learning. They are already smarter than I was when I was their age;) Much smarter in the things of God, especially. Thanks for linking up with Grace and Truth.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I agree wholeheartedly, Aimee! I love to watch those light bulbs come on too, especially when it’s something they have struggled with previously. I also enjoy watching gifts develop in my children that I don’t have. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by today!

  2. June says:

    Thank you for sharing this “snapshot” of your children’s growth, Lois. I’ve not had the blessing of children, so I can only imagine the JOY you must feel. I’m honored to have been given this glimpse inside the heart of a mother. Blessings on you and your sweet family!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      June, it’s so thoughtful of you to comment on a post that is mostly about parenting … your words touched my heart this morning. Thank you, and blessings to you as well! 🙂

  3. Carly says:

    I enjoyed your post. I think in a lot of situations there is great wisdom in not prodding or pushing but letting things develop by themselves. Not always easy to do though! I really like the poem you quoted.

  4. What a thought-provoking post, Lois. This encourages me about my own daughter’s academic development and maturing in all areas. May God give us true wisdom as parents to know when to prod and when to let go and let them be!

  5. Meg Gemelli says:

    This touched me today Lois. So often I “prod” my little guys to grow and mature. Picturing small, fragile plants puts my sense of urgency into perspective. Thanks so much.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      No, growth by prodding never works out very well, does it? And what makes this whole thing even trickier–at least for me–is the fact that children bloom at different times, so you can’t always refer to one child’s growth schedule to see what will happen with the next one! Well, at least parenting isn’t boring, right? Have a wonderful day, Meg!

  6. It’s such a careful balance, isn’t it. I know I sometimes want to prune and prod so that my son gets it just right. But there is such joy in standing back and watching him grow in his dependence on God. A wise woman once told me that “if he always depends on me, he’ll never depend on God.” Loved your words today, Lois. Blessings!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Wow, Tiffany … that quote is powerful–and reassuring. I was just telling one of my girls something similar about the one academic area that does not come easy for her. It’s been a growth process for both of us over the years (for her as she learns and me as I try to help her), but I’m trying to be thankful for it because of what it’s doing to develop both of our characters and increase our dependence on God! You’re right … this is an area that can bring great joy to us as parents!

  7. Lois, what a beautiful post. How sweet to see your girls beginning to bloom in certain areas as they grow. I love your truth that there is a time to prod, and there is a time to leave alone. With my boys, I have one who needs more prodding, and one I can leave alone with certain things, and he thrives. Parenting is such a learning season, learning how to help our children grow into who God intends them to be . . . without stifling them with all of our love.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      It can be overwhelming, can’t it? And just when we get one thing figured out, the child either changes or something new pops up with someone else! I think what you said about helping them grow into who God intends them to be is so important–and comforting. It’s not all up to us, and I am so thankful for that! Thanks for your encouraging words, Jeanne. You are a blessing to me!

  8. Lois, it sounds like you are savoring every moment with Lily ad Molly and I applaud you! So many of us rush life by that we wouldn’t notice the little changes in our children as you have. You’ve given me a good reminder that every day is a gift not to be wasted. Thank you!
    Bless ~

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Thanks, Christy. I rush through plenty of days without noticing much, but I do love it when I’m startled by some evidence of growth! It’s one of the fun parts of parenting, I think. Here’s to savoring the gift of each new day … 🙂

  9. Trudy says:

    I smiled when I read that Lilly said she was having a “little mind war.” She must have a gift for words like her mom. 🙂 I like your approach of not pushing, Lois. It’s hard not to though sometimes. I think when children know and feel they are loved, it goes a long way towards bringing out their gifts and enabling them to learn naturally. And your girls are definitely loved. 🙂 This reminds me of a cocoon. If the butterfly is helped along and forced to come out faster, its wings will be shriveled up as they do not get the oil they get as they squeeze out of the small opening. Thank you for your insight and also for the poem. Blessings and hugs to you!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Thank you so much for your sweet encouragement, Trudy. You’re right … not pushing is hard sometimes, especially because my girls have such different learning styles. I’m so thankful for the wisdom God gives at just the right times! I also love your cocoon analogy. It’s one my dad has shared with me too, and it is so applicable to this conversation. Have a wonderful day, my friend!

  10. Sandy says:

    Thanks so much, Lois, for this insightful word. I needed it today. ?

  11. Cricket Owens says:

    Love love love! Thank you Lois! Perfect timing for me as I struggle with my boys school work. Also gave me a laugh knowing how much you loved her question!

  12. Renee says:

    It is so hard to know when to push and prod and when to step back. In my case, most of the time, it’s better for me to err on the side of not pushing and prodding. Most of the time, things work out without me getting involved. The Lord has a way of doing that 🙂 I enjoyed your post today.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      I have a long way to go when it comes to not prodding too much, but I totally agree with you, Renee. Most of the time, it’s better not to push! Aren’t you thankful our heavenly Father loves our kids even more than we do? 🙂

  13. Bethany says:

    Confession: I didn’t really realize there, their, and they’re were different words till high school! (Just to name a few.) And I loved school and academics!! Go Lilly for being so meticulous! Thanks for this wonderful point, too, Lois. Working in a classroom, this is a wonderful reminder for my day. Blessings!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Bethany, somehow this comment ended up in my spam file and I just happened to see it this morning! (Not the first problem I’ve had with the bloggy gremlins this week, unfortunately.) Anyway, your words are more encouragement that these sorts of skills take time to develop, and no matter how we feel about it, everyone is on a different schedule! I’m glad you found this helpful for your classroom work, too. Have a wonderful weekend!

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