Riptides & Parenting

Growing up I was fortunate to be able to spend my summers down the South Jersey shore (Wildwood, NJ to be exact). Spending so much time on the beach surfing, riptide safety was pounded into your head. If you’re not familiar with a riptide (also called a rip current) it’s a super strong counter current caused by tidal flows in confined areas such as inlets or where you have breaking waves. You’d know if you’ve ever been in one trust me. Not fun.

I’ve been thinking about riptides a bit lately, but in regards to parenting. Sounds crazy, but stick with me. I’ve watched Lili struggle of late with Bean. The two just butt heads. It’s remarkable and eery how similar they are. Strong willed, fiercely independent, short fuses, and extremely adverse to being subservient. To put it bluntly they are the irresistible force meets the immovable object and thus spectacular collisions result.

So wait, what does this have to do with riptides again? I’m getting to that. If you’ve been caught in a riptide your first reaction is to panic. Then as it sucks you out to sea your next reaction is to swim as hard as you can toward the shore directly against the force of the riptide. This, of course, is the worst thing you could do. You make no progress at all toward the shore, you exhaust yourself, and you just get sucked further out. The only thing you accomplish is tiring yourself out as well as increasing your chances of drowning. The thing is riptides are easy to escape if you know the secret. First try not to overreact. Hard to do, but possible. Next, realize you’re in a riptide and that it will only last a short bit. Then beat the riptide by swimming parallel to the shore NOT toward it. That’s because riptides are typically only 20 to 30 meters wide. Once you’re “outside” the riptide path you can then easily swim back to shore. Yay and congrats – you didn’t just drown.

Now let’s overlay that same scenario onto parenting. Your kid doesn’t listen to you. You’re starting to lose your patience. It escalates and you get “sucked” up in it. You combat it head on determined to use a brute force attack. And before you know it you’re drowning. Both of you end up screaming or yelling. There’s crying. Threats of timeouts. Nobody is happy and everyone is exhausted. But, what if you beat it like you beat a riptide. Sidestep it. Realize, ok, you’re in a “moment”. Don’t panic. Don’t attack it head on. Rather think of a way to go with the flow and ride it out to safety. Also, realize it’s just this little meltdown moment you need to get through. Typically in five minutes it will all be over. Crisis adverted. Yay and congrats – you both didn’t just drown.

Of course this is really hard to do when you’ve had a long day, you’re tired, or your kid is really being a little pain in the ass, but that’s when more than ever you need to fight that natural reaction to attack it head on. Trust me, you’ll both be better off.

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