Parenting is sometimes considered an innate process to raise one’s children to be capable adults—that everything is straightforward and will easily fall into place over the years from birth to adulthood. Conceiving children does not properly prepare us for the nurturing, physical and emotional, needed to raise healthy children.
So when we need help where do we turn? I would like to use the analogy of using a map to get around or using a GPS device to argue that there are no easy answers with a lot of hard work and personal involvement.
GPS devices seem to have replaced maps when it comes for getting from one place to another. It’s so simple—we enter our point of origin and put our destination into the device and just follow the directions! It even lets us detour around significant traffic jams to minimize our travel time. Often times we don’t even know the roads or highways that we traveled on. We just followed the instructions. This is so incredibly easy and one is tempted to follow the same type of example for parenting—there must be some app to help us raise our children and arrive in adulthood uneventfully. Well, we all know that nothing could be farther from the truth. We need help and directions, a lot of both.
Maps have very detailed views of how to get from point A to point B. There are different routes to get to our destination, and a person needs to study those and then pick the best route possible. But then sometimes the map is not up-to-date or there are accidents along the way. Then we need to relook at the map to pick an alternate route or even pick a city to pull off in for a break from the drive.
I contend that parenting is a map-driven exercise and not even close to a GPS-driven experience. I love the quote below from the musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN’s “Anybody Have a Map?”
“Does anybody have a map?
Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?
I dunno if you can tell
But this is me just pretending to know
So where’s the map?
I need a clue
‘Cause I’m flying blind
And making this up as I go.”
The mothers who sing this duet realize daily that parenting is not an innate ability, and parents need constant assistance from family, friends and professionals. In many ways we do fly blind through this process.
The map can be a little vague at times so parents have to have the willingness to learn from each day and from each interaction to love and relate in meaningful ways with our children. When the map is clear, our steps can be clear but when there are bumps in the road, we need to constantly reassess what steps to adjust or even change our course.
I like to think about three steps that can be crucial to effective parenting—1) PAUSE and reflect as needed when things can be improved; 2) ASSESS the situation and see if a different response is needed; and 3) CHOOSE the most effective plan after appropriate reflection. And these steps absolutely need to be accomplished in the context of a safe, stable nurturing relationship. Parenting outside of the context of a safe, stable nurturing relationship is ineffective parenting and counterproductive. It is not using the “map” effectively that the pause, assess and choose paradigm can accomplish.
These steps are not easy. By providing that safe, stable nurturing relationship, we are on the right path and using the map effectively. There is no effective GPS device to get us through this maze called parenting. Every day is different with its unique challenges.