River Rafting

In my opinion, the experiences of daily parenting responsibilities can be compared to a family rafting trip. The journey downriver begins the day your child comes home from the hospital, or with the first home visit of fostering or adoption.

Most rivers have stretches of slow and fast-moving waters. While enjoying slow waters, family members can sit back and enjoy the ride. Even though rivers appear to be moving slowly, thousands of gallons of water is flowing beneath the raft. In these sections of the river, parent’s easily maneuver their rafts using their paddles as rudders.
It takes very little effort in lazy sections of the river to float safely between its banks.

At other times, water flow is moving faster and family members need to paddle in unison to keep the boat heading downstream, bow first. As riverbanks become narrower and steeper, water flow increases, and rafts pick up speed. In these sections of the river, parents and children need to have all paddles in the water, steering away from logjams, boulders or jagged rocks.

Parents may feel as if they have lots of time to instill family values and godly behaviors in their children’s lives because the pace of life feels manageable and rewarding. In times like these, parents often feel in control of the daily events that occur within their children’s lives, especially in the nursery and preschool ages.

Parents quickly discover how their children become influenced both positively and negatively by child-care workers, neighbors, teachers and classmates. Parents ask: “Where did my little one learn that word or behavior?” At this point parents begin the long journey of addressing any residual negativity as a result of unhealthy values and influences that are contrary to their family values.

Children are like barometers, and these behaviors or attitudes reflect their environments. Children respond immediately to stress or anger, as well as to nurture and love. Parents must be intentional and creative in establishing the values of nurture, love and discipline into their children’s lives as early as nursery and preschool years.

The same intentionality and creativity is needed for preparing to take your children on rafting trips. River guides launch in calm sections of the river because some training needs to be hands-on, such as learning to back-paddle, paddling in unison and how to recover someone who falls out of the raft.

As river guides, parents may feel as if they have lots of time to prepare children for any upcoming or unexpected dangers that are common with rafting. However, each new season brings spring rains or winter storms, washing trees into the water creating new challenges such as logjams while erosion carves new channels making the river unfamiliar and unpredictable. Parents must never forget that life changes as quickly in family life as on rivers.

Parents grew up in a different worldview and culture than their children. Even though it does not seem possible, cultural and family values of one generation may be lost in the very next generation.
The things that parents did as children may never be something their children can do, such as walk to baseball practice or be dropped off at the mall to enjoy a movie.

In one turn of the river, your family can face a series of rapids that were not on the map a year earlier. Parents do not have time to prepare their children for such unpredictable changes in the culture. In these circumstances parents will quickly realize that some of their children’s behaviors or attitudes need immediate correction in order to counteract cultural values that are inconsistent with Scriptures or godly character.

These changes do not always imply that your children are rebellious. However, the water’s velocity and upcoming rapids require parents to be more intense in their approaches to offset any negative cultural values. At these times, parents need each child to paddle and listen to their instruction without hesitation in order to safely navigate through the rapids. At moments like these, parents need everyone working together in order to steer around potential dangers.

The problems or dangers that were present as parents were growing up are escalated in their children’s lives; especially due to the impact of the internet. Today’s children are subject to online bullying, pornography, and child predators. Parents were confronted with similar issues but not from the safety of their bedrooms. The loss of respect for teachers, police and political leaders cause children to wonder who can be trusted.

Perhaps the greatest difference between generations is the overwhelming amount of information that floods into your children’s minds. Children are being bombarded by cultural struggles in various forms of media. Information about bombings, bullying, drug or alcohol abuse, fatherlessness, abductions, school violence and teen pregnancy rates are streaming into your children’s lives in such detail and with such frequency that life becomes overwhelming and frightening.

Parents understand the dangers of rapids and logjams, but children may be caught up in the excitement of bouncing off of the boulders rather than trying to navigate around them. At these times, parents need to be firm and direct due to potential threats to their children’s safety. Sometimes children interpret these parental warnings as being controlling rather than life-giving because the culture creates mistrust in parent-child relationships.

Another reason for firm and direct communication is the increase of ambient noise that drowns out parental voices. Many voices are streaming into children’s minds, making it difficult for parents’ voices to stand out above the other influences, such as cultural trends, friends and media. These types of circumstances require children to respond immediately to avoid flipping the raft or being swept under a logjam. In these times, children may respond to their parent’s instructions by asking, “Why do I have to paddle so much and stay in sync with everyone else in the family?”

For the most part, teens do not enjoy being ordered, especially when everything seems to be okay to them. However, parents view the river (culture) differently from their children. They understand that their children can be thrown from the raft at any moment, facing the possibility of injury or drowning. Parents need to be proactive by talking to their children, especially during the preteen years, about how Christian and cultural values may clash during the journey downriver.

The value of mutuality will serve families well at these times. Parents who model mutuality in their homes are preparing their teens to guide their own raft (life) and future family downriver. The best approach is allowing teens to pilot the family raft in sections of the river that are manageable, before they need to do it on their own. Some families face rapids every morning. Parents need to have all paddles in the water in order to get everyone off to school. Mornings can turn into rescue missions unless family members stay in sync with each other.

Parental instructions become very direct during rescue missions. At these times children feel confused and stop listening. In their confusion they start asking why and how questions, when in that moment, their parents need obedience in order to avoid danger. Teens may not recognize dangers associated with an increase of water flow moving beneath them. From the viewpoint of a teen everything appears as if their parents are being unreasonable or controlling.

Families who do not paddle together at these critical moments run the risk of being overturned with family members spread out on both sides of the river. Any experienced river guide will seek information from the forest service, other professional guides, as well as asking people who live along the river about water conditions before setting out with inexperienced people in their rafts. The same is true for parents. They should seek advice from other seasoned parents and pastors who have raised children into adulthood. As parents seek guidance they will gain valuable information and resources to navigate these seasons of life as safely and successfully as possible.

Parents seeking wisdom from trusted friends, clergy and counseling professionals will be prepared to identify obstacles (cultural values) that have the potential to threaten biblical and family values. These conversations will help parents transition from stage one of the PAC Model to the next by finding practical, age appropriate ways to develop nurture, values, mutuality and interdependence in their children.

Make a list of the daily activities or events where your children need to respond to parental authority in order to be in sync (paddling) with you and other family members.
• Mornings: Getting ready for school
• Evenings: Homework and bedtime
• Weekends: Extracurricular activities, visiting biological parent (stepfamily), etc…