Parenting has many similarities to a family rafting trip. Most rivers have stretches of slow and fast moving water. While enjoying slow waters, family members can sit back and enjoy the ride; no one is required to paddle. In moments like these, parents guide the raft down river by using their paddle as a rudder. It takes very little effort in lazy sections of the river to safely float between its banks. At other times, waters move faster and family members need to paddle in unison to keep the boat heading down stream, bow first. As the river banks become narrower and steeper the raft begins to pick up speed. In these sections parents and children need to have all paddles in the water in order to steer the raft away from log jams or jagged rocks.

     The journey down the river known as parenting begins the day your child home from the hospital, or the first home visit of fostering or adoption. Parents may feel as if they have lots of time to instill values and godly behavior in their child’s heart because the pace of family life is fun, exciting and rewarding. Parents often feel in control of the daily events that occur within their homes, except for loss of sleep. These feelings of “I’ve got this,” can carry over into the transitions between nursery and preschool. Parents will quickly realize how much influence child care workers, teachers and classmates can gain in a young child’s life. Parents quickly begin to ask themselves, “Where did my little one learn that word or behavior.” At this point parents begin the long journey of addressing the negative effects of values and influences that are contrary to your family values. It is important to remember that children are like barometers. His or her 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 even as young as nursery and preschool ages.  

     The same intentionality and creativity is needed for preparing to go on a rafting trip. Parents, who take their children down the river for an adventure usually launch in a calm section of the river where you feel as if you have lots of time to prepare children for any upcoming dangers or swifter waters down river. However, rivers are not as predictable as parents may think; even if they have years of rafting experience. The spring rains or winter storms can wash trees into the river causing log jams through erosion of its banks. The erosion can carve new channels in the river that makes it unfamiliar and unpredictable very quickly. Parents must never forget that things change as quickly on rivers as for cultures. Parents grew up in a different world view and culture than their children. It does not seem possible but, it’s true that 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.

     In one turn of the river, your family can be facing a series of rapids that were not on the map. Parents did not have time to prepare their family for such an unpredictable change in the river (culture). At these times, parents will quickly realize that some of their child’s behaviors or attitudes need immediate correction in order to counteract these negative characteristics or dangers in the river. These changes do not always imply that your children are rebellious. However, the speed of the water and upcoming rapids requires parents to be more intense and intentional in their approach to these negative cultural values. Parents need each child to begin to paddle and listen to their instruction without hesitation in order to steer around or through the rapids. At moments like these parents need everyone working together in order to navigate around log jams or boulders (unhealthy cultural values).

     Many of these obstacles or unhealthy cultural values were not problems that parents faced growing up. Some of these changes between parent and child’s generations include: bullying, gangs, drugs, pornography, secularization of culture, or the loss of respect for other adults, teachers or leaders. Perhaps the greatest difference between these generations is availability, prevalence and easy access of such negative influences.  

     Parents understand the dangers of rapids and log jams 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 the potential threat to their child’s safety. Sometimes children may interpret these parental actions as controlling or a lack of trust toward them. Another reason for firm and direct communication is due to the increase of ambient noise that makes parents voices hard to hear over the rushing waters, cultural trends, and friends. These types of circumstances require children to respond immediately to avoid flipping the raft or being swept under a log jam. Commonly, children ask, “Why do I have to paddle so much and stay in sync with everyone else?”

     Teens do not enjoy being ordered around, especially when everything seems to be okay to them. However, parents have a different view of the river (culture). They understand that at any moment their children can be thrown from the raft and face the danger of hitting boulders, log jams or even drowning. It is important for parents to teach their children early on, especially their teens, of any dangers that may be encountered during the journey downriver. The values of mutuality will serve families well at these times. Parents who implement the value of mutuality into their home-life are preparing their teens to guide their own raft (life) and future family down the river. It is best to teach teens to pilot the family raft while before they need to do it on their own.

     For some families the rapids occur every morning. Parents need to have all paddles in the water in order to get everyone ready and off to school. Families who are out of sync with each other will see family members thrown from the raft. Each morning can turn into a rescue mission unless family members stay in sync with each other. Parental instructions become very intense during a rescue missions and children often stop listening and start asking why and how questions. Teens may not recognize any danger associated with the swiftness of the current, to them, it appears that his or her parent is being unreasonable or controlling. Families who do not paddle together at these critical times will become overturned raft with family members spread out on both sides of the river. I hope the illustration can help you to see how parenting responsibilities can change very quickly depending on the events and circumstance of your family.

     Parents should seek advice from other parents and pastors who have raised children into adulthood in order to be adequately prepared to safely and successfully navigate these years. The same is true for parents who want to take their family on a rafting trip.Similarly, They need to seek information from the forest service about river conditions before embarking on a rafting trip. Parents who seek wisdom from trusted friends, clergy and counseling professionals will be able to guard their children from cultural values that are contrary to biblical and family values. These conversations will help parents to transition from one stage of the parent model (nurture, values, mutuality and interdependence) to the next. These values will help children to become disciplined and self-controlled in order to make healthy choices.

           Make a list of the daily activities or events where you need your children to respond to your parental authority in order to be in sync (paddling) with you and other family members. 

·         Mornings – getting ready for school

·         Evening – homework and bedtime

·         Weekends – extracurricular activities, visiting biological parent (step-family), etc…

(This is an excerpt from: Parenting Your Children into Adulthood, by Ron Hitchcock)