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Little Things that Change Relationships

I am a whitewater river guide.  I love rafting and kayaking.  I learned to guide rafts while living in Idaho working with the youth at the Project Patch Youth Ranch and guiding for YD Adventures.

The river is amazingly powerful and the boats are heavy and the guide paddle doesn’t do much at times.  Paul Spence and Kenny Leyton said something that encouraged me.  They said that a 120-pound petite woman was often a better guide than the burly muscle-bound man because she didn’t try to overcome the power of the river with her muscles, and instead harnessed the power of the river and planned ahead in such a way that she took the boat down the river safer and with way less work.

Chuck Guiding Payette River "Go Left"
Chuck Guiding Payette River “Go Left”

Since I’m an office boy that isn’t by any means muscle-bound, I decided that I better learn how to harness the river.  I learned to watch currents, use different currents to turn the boat, plan ahead and put the boat in a position so that it would ferry against the current, and a whole bunch of other skills that only came with admitting that I’m not that strong and need all the help I can get.

Why do I share this?  Because I have found that I benefit when I approach the currents in my life’s relationships with the focus of a wise river guide rather than someone simply being washed down the river.  When life’s currents pull us apart, rather than drift helplessly and rely on my own strength, I’ve found that the use of small but powerful currents help me to not only survive life’s rapids, but also makes the trip a lot more fun.

For example, small acts of thoughtfulness and kindness done proactively rather than re-actively have a huge impact on relationships.  I’m always surprised by the power a small gesture of thoughtfulness can have on my wife and children.  My wife leaves a note in my girls’ school lunches everyday, which takes hardly any time, but the girls often comment about how special that made them feel.

The other thing I’m learning is that having a shared family goal is a lot of fun.  Rather than surprise our girls with a vacation, we talk about it and plan ahead so that we can all dream and look forward to it.  Kelly and I celebrated our 20th anniversary this summer and the shared planning led to anticipation and we drew closer even before the week together.  Planning ahead helps us anticipate and reduce last-minute panic, but also creates a shared goal.

Another trick on the river is to use currents to turn the boat.  I’ve had ten people in a boat, plus our gear; and it was hard to turn the boat, especially when it had a lot of momentum.  As a guide I’d look for eddy’s, these are sections of the river flowing upstream rather than down.  Putting a part of the boat into an eddy results in the boat naturally turning.   This can be disastrous if I’m not anticipating it, but when I scout a challenging rapid, I look for currents at critical places that will help me turn the boat.  This turbulent water makes it possible to get where I want to go.  Sure it carries some risk, but it is also risky to try to turn a boat on my strength.

How does this apply to our families?  It is a reminder that we shouldn’t avoid conflict in our family.  I’m not advocating creating conflict, but I am saying that we shouldn’t necessarily avoid conflict either, especially if we need a change of course.  Lack of conflict doesn’t mean your family is okay, it often means the opposite.

Some people don’t understand why I’d find it fun to go down a rushing river.  The risk and fear for some is too much.  I’m not here to convince you to raft, and you have a choice to participate or not.  However, you don’t have a choice in life.  You and your family are in the river, and your job as a parent is to guide your family.  You have the choice of being reactive and trying to muscle your way through it; or to be wise and use small acts of kindness, shared goals, and even conflict, to help you get down the river with all the family in the boat, and maybe even having a blast doing it.

[reminder]Is your family experience similar to getting down a raging river?  How have you kept all of you in the boat and navigated the rapids?


2 Comments on “Little Things that Change Relationships

  1. Thank you for the reminder that it’s the little things that count. In this crazy busy life I often find myself putting my most important relationships last.

    • Andrew, I struggle with the same thing and also the thought that I have to do something big like a whole day together or a significant event/activity. What I find that matters most to my wife and girls is the little things and showing them in little ways that even when I’m busy that they are in my thoughts.