Most of the families I have worked with over the years have heard my analogy of the “family ship.” I love sharing it – it’s fun, very easy to visualize and it’s actually quite relevant!

Picture a large sailboat traversing the ocean – the ship represents your home. The ocean is your environment. There are times when the ship is sailing in smooth waters, humming along like a well-oiled machine. Other times the ship is fraught with turbulence, seemingly ready to topple. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this part!

The captains of the ship represent the parents; co-captains, ideally with similar values and goals for their mission. It is the co-captains’ mission to arrive at the destination of their choice, with the crew safe, sound and wiser for the journey. In fact, if the captains are well equipped and have good fortune, the crew will be sufficiently prepared to sail their own ship in time; having learned valuable lessons along the way.

The co-captains have great respect for their crew, and take their responsibility for the HMS Family very seriously. Therefore, they don’t involve the crew in matters that could sway the ship off course. The deck hands are aware that the captains have an immense amount of knowledge and power. They long to have the power and freedom of choice that the captains have, and sometimes resent their place on ship. They may try to influence the captains’ decisions from time to time, having been told by mermaids of the riches in mystical waters off the charted path. The captains remain true to their course, recognizing that the crew can at times be quite a handful!

Now, do not misinterpret the importance of the crew. Their job is far greater than performing menial tasks on the ship. Their most important work is to learn alongside the co-captains, and to assume increasing responsibility as they become more able. They are indeed apprentices to the experienced captains, and their contribution is both necessary and valued. After all, it takes many hands to successfully sail a large vessel.

Don’t be lulled into thinking that the HMS Family is all work. The entire crew works playfully – and plays seriously. From time to time, the ship takes a hiatus in smooth waters, and all the ship’s inhabitants sit back and let her glide. During this time, festivities prevail and the business of sailing the HMS Family is set aside. Under the moonlit sky, the captains will sometimes regail the crew of their own adventures on the high seas. Some tales leave the crew in stitches, wondering how they managed to become so seaworthy! Observing the crew’s reaction to their stories, the co-captains will make eye contact with a glimmer in their eyes, remembering back to their own carefree days as young crew members. Oh, the errors they made! The wise captains know that young crew members learn not by doing things perfectly – but by being off course!

In order to keep the entire crew in order, the captains and crew must know their destination, and be able to stay the course. It is true, the crew makes a meager wage, but their motivation isn’t driven by shillings. They are keenly motivated to learn new skills that improve their own seaworthiness! They trust their captains not to steer them wrong. They know that by participating with the skilled captains, they will experience competence. The captains are aware of the deck hands’ strengths and challenges. They know when to transfer more responsibility – and they do not expect sheer compliance! They know that in the long run, the deck hand must experience the magical feeling of being an apprentice and to feel competent alongside the captains. A deck hand who is expected simply to comply will not learn, as under duress the deck hand will be fearful will not be able to think properly. A good captain has patience, and knows that a solid deck hand will make a fine captain one day. He or she will have learned the ways of the sea. Ah, the job of the captain… a difficult one to be sure.

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