Consider the boat that is your child's genetics. Everyone is shaped a little bit differently, and that plays a role in how you can navigate the river, but it's hardly the only factor that determines the quality of your trip together.
Your paddle really serves as your own behaviors, actions, and words.
It helps you steer the boat in terms of where you go and what your passenger sees. You can bring your boat to a standstill, you might crash into a rock and get stuck, you can choose which path (of many) the boat takes, you can go fast when needed and slow down when you need a break. You, for much of the time, are in control. But the biggest lesson of all when it comes to paddling is this: sometimes you don't need to paddle at all to get where you want to go. In fact, there is such a thing as overpaddling -- trying so hard to do right that you actually send your vessel in the wrong direction. Lots of times,you're better off going with the flow. Our mantra: Parent smart, not hard.
The river represents the environment in which your child lives.
Sometimes there's rough water, and sometimes there's calm water. Sometimes you have a wide river with lots of choices of where to steer a boat and sometimes, in narrow sections, you just have to ride the rapids. The bottom line is that no matter how expert a guide you are, the environment has a bigger impact on you and your youngster's ride together than anything else. one of the great lessons we learn from traveling the river is that the easiest places to travel are the channels that are well worn and well traveled, and you'll encounter windows of opportunity in which to find those easy-to-navigate places. Your child will actually help direct you there.
Your boat carries all the equipment you'll need. You have maps to help you predict rough waters ahead ("I want to get a tattoo!" announces your daughter). And you have life vests, too, in case you run into some trouble. Both of them come in the various support systems that you already have and will develop en route, including your partner, friends, extended family, doctors, and even the internet, books, and other resources that can help you navigate a river that many before you already have voyaged successfully.
The destination? Well, those are all the traits, skills, attitudes, emotions, and behaviors that make up the person your son or daughter eventually becomes. As you can guess by now, your child's destination depends greatly on which path you take and how you lead the way -- not by your words, but by your actions. But a big lesson we'll be exploring is that what you want for your child might not be right for her, so it's so important that you learn to read her signals and help her go where she naturally wants to go.
Your ultimate goal as guide is to teach your passenger enough about the river so that she can eventually take the helm. This handing-off process starts very early (think toilet training), and culminates when your passenger has attained all the skills necessary to be her own guide: How to make important decisions, how to be calm and confident in the face of adversity, and how to live a productive, satisfying, independent life. If all goes well, she'll be giving you a ride about two decades from now.