Walking the tightrope of parenting

There is a name that brings an image to mind. It’s the image of sweaty palms, butterflies in your stomach, a quick trip to the bathroom, an internal conversation that goes something like, “Why would someone do that?” or “you must be out of your mind.”

The name is Nik Wallenda. He was born into a family of circus act performers known as The Flying Wallendas, the most recognizable tightrope walkers in history. For seven generations, the family has been known for performing death-defying feats that would make the most unruffled guy monitor his heart rate.

Most recently, Nik Wallenda stretched his tightrope across Niagara Falls and, with an uncanny confidence, walked across the falls, with seemingly no regard to wind or moisture from the mist. He became the first person to walk across the Falls on a tightrope. 1,800 feet across the mist-fogged brink of the roaring falls separating the U.S. and Canada.

Watching him made me a believer. He was confident he could do it. He said he could do it. And he did it. What you may not know is this feat was the result of countless steps on the “low” wire, research and homework on the frightful conditions of Niagara, meticulous mental and physical preparation, and encouragement and counsel from others. In other words, this profession doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

His performance begs the question, “Why?” An interview immediately afterward revealed his motivation. “This was a tribute to my father, my hero, Karl Wallenda.” Wow! Not what I would do, but I get it.

The urban definition of walking a tightrope is “to be in a difficult situation in which a very small mistake could have very bad results.” Duh!! It’s not easy work. It’s tough stuff. It’s scary stuff and one wrong move will mess up your whole day. But the payoff, especially to Nik, was worth it.

Walking the tightrope of parenting
Such is the nature of parenting. Walking a wire of day-to-day decisions with your kids. Walking the wire, that straight wire, where everyday choices and everyday problems and everyday victories can set the course for the day and, surprisingly, often navigates the course for life.

Every parent knows there are a seemingly large number of tightrope stories they’ve experienced. One of the most vivid for me concerned my youngest son who, unfortunately, inherited my quick-tempered, emotionally-charged method of decision making. Poor kid. Because we are alike in many ways, confrontation happened more often than I’d like to admit.

Once, as we were discussing the reasons he was going to continue his advanced and more difficult courses in high school, we came nose to nose (literally) in a conversation that registered at about 100 dB. We were on the rope together at that moment and the wind and mist of our words could have blown us both off course. I remember saying something idiotic like, “So you want a shot at the title do you?” … as his hand was turning into a fist.

Like every difficult conversation, there were a million steps we could’ve taken, but in that moment, somehow we took a step of love. Like Wallenda, our consistency, conversations about his future, and the foundation of faith eventually won the day.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Love thinks about someone else more than it thinks about itself. Even as a parent, to discover solutions, it’s more about loving each other, keeping the conversation open, and guiding our kids to a reasonable place in their thinking and in our thinking, too. We spent the next five minutes hugging each other and crying. I didn’t know what he was thinking, I was just thankful he didn’t decide to go for the title. He’s bigger than me.

Just like Nik Wallenda, parenting has a goal, probably several. My wife and I have found that among the big ones would be to “walk together” with your children in their everyday life decisions, giving them experiences appropriate to spiritual and personal formation, both by observation and example.

Parents, here’s your motivation. You’re on the wire with your kids. When one person slips and falls, nobody survives the fall. Your consistency will eventually win the day. The “win” doesn’t always happen when kids leave the house. It’s great when it does. For some, it may take a lifetime. Consistency in the things that matter seems to be the balancing pole that navigates your kids through life.


Categories: Modeling Authenticity / Showing Compassion

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