Lessons from the Lawnmower – A Look at Parenting

Mr. Thad Jahns, Marriage and Family Therapist

I have to admit it. I am one of those guys who takes great pride in keeping his lawn in pristine condition. Not that it is a total obsession with me. I don’t religiously follow the feeding schedule as outlined on the back of the fertilizer bag. Nor do I catch the grass clippings and haul them to the compost site three times a week. If you look closely, you’ll see that I even have a few patches of crab grass and Creeping Charlie lurking among the blades of Kentucky bluegrass. Having lost the battle with these persistent foes years ago, I’ve somehow convinced myself that they give needed “character” to my otherwise lush lawn.

Any guy worth his weight in Milorganite will tell you that the true measure of a man is the kind of lawn that he keeps or so I’ve come to believe. So you can imagine the quandary I found myself in when, early this past summer, my oldest son began to ask if he was old enough to begin mowing. Part of me wanted to hold tight to the reins (or the handlebar, as it were) and never let go. After all, what if he would miss a patch here and there? What would the neighbors think if the lines on my lawn were not parallel? What if he didn’t do it the way I’ve always done it? My wife had already been relegated to the backyard for failure to comply with proper lawn mowing procedures I would hate to have to do the same to my son.

Lessons to teach
Fortunately, my lapse in good judgment was only temporary. Looking at the situation from a different angle, I started to consider some of the potential benefits. Selfishly, I pictured myself kicking back in a hammock, sipping an ice-cold glass of lemonade, and watching someone else sweat it out on a humid summer day. And think of the important lessons that could be passed on from father to son through this simple act of mowing the lawn! I had at my disposal a young mind ready to soak up all that I had to share regarding small engine maintenance, mower safety, responsibility, and the nearly-lost art of mowing in diagonal lines.

As any good father would do, I began a comprehensive orientation process, complete with demonstrations of proper mowing technique. My new apprentice was less than receptive. “I just want to mow the lawn,” he said with a look of impatience. So, remembering the excitement of my own first mowing experience and fighting every fatherly urge within me, I watched Ethan push the primer, pull the cord, and make his first pass across the yard. My vigilance had to be unnerving. I did my best to bite my tongue as I watched him drift off line, wrestling with a machine that weighed more than he did. But in the end, the unmistakable look of satisfaction on his face told me that a huge milestone had just been reached, both in his life and in mine. (Of course, I still waited until he wasnt around to clean up the small spots he had missed.)

Lessons learned
Reflecting on the past few months, I can’t help but notice that what started as an opportunity for me to teach some important life lessons to my son ended with him teaching me the most important lessons of all. Here are a few things I picked up this summer:

Straight lines arent nearly as important as I thought they were
I’ve realized how easy it is for us, as parents, to impose our adult standards on our children. Yet, to expect our kids to perform flawlessly or complete a task perfectly is more than we have a right to expect. I want my children to know that not mastering something the first time does not equal failure. We all need to focus less on the outward signs of what we consider success and focus more on putting our best effort into every task, all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). With regular encouragement and lots of practice, the “straight lines” start to take care of themselves.

Lawnmowers don’t float
Early in the summer, as Ethan was still getting a feel for the machine, the mower somehow rolled down the hill on the side of our house and found its way into the creek that meanders through our backyard. All of us learned that day that lawnmowers don’t float. I was also reminded that a sense of humor is essential for anyone raising kids. Lawnmowers are going to roll into creeks. Small trees are going to have their lives cut short. Flowerbeds are going to get scalped. Stuff like that just happens. And sometimes, when we take a step back and look at the bigger picture, it’s really not a big deal. In fact, it might even be a bit funny. While Ethan didn’t find much humor in the incident at the time (he actually almost started hyperventilating), the incident has now become yet another humorous chapter in Jahns family lore.

Lawns are for more than just looking at
Our children have a way of helping us to keep things in perspective. I truly believe God intended it to be that way. I often get preoccupied in the trivial things that life has to offer like meticulous lawn care practices. Over the years, my obsession with form has taken a back seat to function. I’ve come to realize that the most beautiful lawn is one that is getting used, one that is worn to the dirt by families playing ball together, one that is mud-caked and soaked form the sprinkler and the Slip N Slide. I even mowed a small golf hole (complete with a tee box, a short fairway, and a putting green) in the yard one summer. Now that’s a beautiful yard!

Looking back on the summer now, I can see how Ethan has taken some important steps toward adulthood. It has been a joy to watch his confidence grow as he’s tackled his new chore. And when he puts his mind to it, he really does a great job with the lawn. I’ve done some growing too. I’ve learned to let go of some things that I used to think were important, like having the perfect lawn. Ethan recently informed me that the money he’s earned from mowing lawn this year will be used to buy his first car when he turns sixteen. I informed him I have some important things to share about large engine maintenance, road safety, responsibility, and the lost art of parallel parking.

Thad Jahns, M.S., has served as a career counselor and marriage and family therapist. Thad and his wife, Ann, are parents of three energetic boys.


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