Tie ’em to a stake, I say.


Just before the end of last year, we removed every sign of vegetation from our front garden. We didn’t do this because we hate trees, we did it because what had been planted by the previous owners was wholly unsuitable for the area and the proximity to the house. So, for months, we have had a bare and barren front garden while we had stumps ground and fertilised the soil to ensure good growth of the plants we intended to fill it with.

We bought quite a few of these native Lillypillies (above), which all came tied to stakes. We had a brief discussion on whether or not to remove the stakes once the trees were planted, as the stakes aren’t exactly pretty. We decided it would be best to leave them in. Frankly, we need all the help we can get when growing plants, and keeping the stakes in will ensure, we hope, that they grow straight and also that they have some support while getting firmly established root-wise.

I was talking to a dear friend recently about raising kids and one of the things we touched on was the lack of discipline in parenting these days. She told me what her father had always said in regards to raising children. He said that they were like plants and needed to be tied to a stake in order to grow straight and to provide them with support until they were strong enough to stand on their own.

What a wise man. And how apt given the discussion I had just had with my fellow gardening husband.

It’s true. Children need that support and structure to grow on while they are young. They need the restraints of those ties to keep them growing the right way. You’ll notice though, that the ties around the plants stem aren’t tight; there is plenty of room for growth and movement.

My father-in-law, who was an expert tomato grower and a big believer in staking fledgling tomato plants, always cautioned me against tying the plant too tightly to the stake when I started growing my own. “You must leave room for growth and not strangle the plant” he would say. As with children, too much discipline will stifle their growth, limit their capacity to bear fruit and flowers and not lead to maturity. Once again in life, we find that balance is the key.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the pendulum has swung too far and children are barely disciplined (don’t even get me started on all the pop-psychology of child-raising these days). They are left, untethered, to grow in whichever way they can, devoid of guidance and asked to weather the storms and lashing rain with nothing to provide support whatsoever. It seems to me, current parenting trends focus far too much on how the child ‘feels’ and not enough on preparing them for the realities of the world they are living in, which are realities regardless of how they ‘feel’ about them.

Given some direction and support, children, just like our Lillypillies, will come to a time when they will be able to stand on their own, once they are firmly rooted and their core is strong and straight. Then, the stake can be removed, the ties loosened and the child, who by now is not a child any longer, can bloom and fruit all the more because of it’s steady start and deep roots.

What you will have is a person who not only can withstand all life throws at them but who can thrive in spite of it all. To not just survive but to thrive is proper living. And, really, isn’t that what we want for our kids?

10 thoughts on “Tie ’em to a stake, I say.

  1. Many years ago I planted some fast-growing shrubs to hide a neighbor’s unsightly (and illegal) carport. A few years later the property was sold, the carport torn down, and the winter rains came. When the ground was very wet, we had a high wind and every one of those shrubs blew over. They had been so well protected by the carport that they grew nice and straight and strong but they had no flexibility, so the first storm destroyed them. Even then I knew there was a lesson there for me to learn…and not just about gardening.


  2. We don’t have kids, which is a good thing – I have PTSD, and if you tap me on the shoulder you’re literally taking your life in your hands. Not the best environment for nurturing.

    But I did teach, and saw the results of several decades of letting kids ‘find themselves’. It was ghastly.

    So many of them didn’t seem to have any sort of moral compass at all. They felt that the worst thing about plagiarism was the risk of getting caught, and that cheating didn’t matter…because there would always be someone else who’d check their work (I taught structural engineering).

    There were exceptions, but I regret to say that few of them came from ‘Western’ families. Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh students were almost uniformly hardworking, honest, and respectful.

    That’s not an indictment of Christianity, but it is a charge against the West. We’ve abrogated the responsibility of raising children, thinking that direction equals control equals dictatorship.

    How sad, because when you abandon someone who’s incapable of self-control, you’ve become responsible for what happens.

    And it usually isn’t either pretty or fun.


    • It is sad, isn’t it? Sad for all of us as a society and especially the children who then become adults who can’t/don’t know how to function in the world. And I blame ‘soft’ Christianity in the West, where comfort levels and the obsessive need to be liked produce limp, lukewarm, self seeking individuals that bear little resemblance to what the word ‘christian’ actually means.


  3. Wow, can’t believe I’m reading your blog right here, right now. I have just gotten over (well, for today anyway!!) disciplining my 13 year old for saying ‘I can do what I want’ and ‘I want to do it MY way’. We have been over and over this same issue many times and I wonder sometimes what am I doing wrong and feel like this is all too hard. But I KNOW I must keep on keeping on and not give up! Many parents are just too tired to care by this stage. Thanks Susannah!!!


    • Good for you Lauren! It’s so worth it in the long run – a cliche that is a cliche because it’s so true 🙂 And rest assured, you are doing nothing wrong…we’ve all felt like that (and continue to do so!), some things just take longer than others before they ‘get’ it 🙂 You’re a great mum xo


    • Lauren, my response to my kids when they were teenagers was an updated version of my mother’s response to me. She would say that as long as I lived under her roof, I’d have to live by her rules. To my kids I said “As long as I am legally and financially responsible for you, I get to make the rules. We can discuss them, you can give me reasons for changing them, but my vote carries more weight than yours. But I promise you this: when you can take the responsibility for your own lives, then you can make whatever rules you want and I won’t interfere.” The second half of that has been as hard for me as I’m sure the first half was for them, but they are happy, productive adults raising their own families and I couldn’t be prouder of them.


      • Yes, letting them choose what they want to keep and discard from what we’ve taught them is the tricky part, isn’t it? Truly raising independent individuals is much easier in word than in deed!


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