Thursday, June 2, 2011

Choosing Your Guide

You have been invited to go on a day-long hike by two of your friends, to the same place, on the same day. You have never been hiking before, so you will be relying on your friend to guide you on the difficult course. You have to choose one of them:

You could choose Anna. She will provide clothes and shoes for the hike, which you will have to wear even if they don't fit you properly. She will also pack the supplies, and she won't let you bring anything extra. She will decide what parts of the hike should be easy for you, and will expect you to cover those parts quickly, and with a smile. She will also decide when something is too difficult for you, and she will not let you try it.

Anna will ration the water and food, and manage the stops. You will have little to no input about where and when to stop for any of these things. In fact, you will have little to no input about anything for the whole day. The important thing will be that you stay on track, and get to the end of the course at the right time. Anna promises you will complete the hike if you come with her.

Or you could choose Zoe. She won't help you prepare, or recommend what to wear or bring. She will bring the things she needs for the hike, but nothing for you. She will often get ahead of you and won't look back. Even though she knows the path well, she will give you very little information to help you along.

Zoe thinks you are capable of making decisions for yourself. You will be able to stop and eat or drink or rest whenever you want, but you won't know if you have enough food or the right food. And you will probably be alone. Zoe won't care whether or not you complete the hike. She will be more concerned about her own progress.

Which of these two would you choose?

Oh wait, hold on... a third friend just called...

Her name is Mona. She will give you a comprehensive list of suggestions for how to prepare for the hike. She will even go shopping with you to find the right things that will fit you, and together you will make sure you are both ready. She knows the path well, and she will walk next to you as long as you want her to. She will warn you about dangers she knows about, and will help you decide if you feel ready to take on each part of the course.

She will offer to help when she notices you are struggling, no matter how easy or hard it looks to her. Sometimes she might get distracted and get ahead of you, but she will notice quickly, come back, and apologize. She will stop whenever you want, to eat, drink, rest, or explore. Mona doesn't worry about whether either one of you will finish the hike. She's just enjoying the adventure with you.

Who would you go hiking with? 

Now think about this: you invited your child into this world, and she didn't get to choose her guide. So it's up to you. Thank goodness, you don't have to choose between being controlling and being neglectful. There is another way. It looks like Mona's style.

It looks like being supportive, accepting, and helpful. It looks like giving your child as much control as he is comfortable with. It looks like living in the moment and enjoying the adventure with your child, not rushing toward the end result.

What kind of guide do you want to be for your child on her adventures?


  1. Ahh! What a fresh perspective :)

  2. Excellent metaphor for teaching as well!

  3. It's a great metaphor for psychotherapy! Maybe not so much for restaurant management or controlling an oligarchy. But hey, I'm a wacky vegan poet musician. I don't dabble in oligarchies.

  4. Vickie, I can't tell you how much I loved this post - It nearly brought tears to my eyes. What a great metaphor! Putting ourselves in our kids' shoes is such an important part of parenting, and yet it is often so very hard to do.

  5. @Naomi, True! I hadn't thought of it applying to teaching but it does!

    @none, I'm not into oligarchies that much lately either. ;)

    @Lila, Thanks :)

  6. Wow this really bought tears to my eyes...we really are our children's guides. I am really refreshed by this analogy which points out the ways I'm sometimes not a good guide and how I can be a better one. Thank-you.

  7. @Terri, Thanks for saying so. One thing about putting all of this in writing is that is helps me be accountable to myself. I catch myself doing something that goes against what I have written, and I can fix it better. :)

  8. A friend just passed this on to me and it so clearly explains the sort of learning, and life we try to create in our family. Thank you so much for writing this.

  9. Beautiful. What a wonderful analogy. Thank you.

  10. Brilliant analogy!

    I hope all the parents are listening.

    Michael Goldfield

  11. The thought of hiking with Zoe made me feel incredibly anxious! Great article, lovely analogy.

  12. This is so great:). Thank you for the easy to understand analogy.