Choosing a career in aviation was the beginning of my grand adventure and the best training for motherhood. As I advanced through my flight ratings, I started with my private pilot license, which is like a driver’s license for airplanes. I learned all the basics such as what each control does, how to take off, maneuver, and land. As a student progresses through training, they master controlling the airplane solo, which means eventually the instructor gets out of the aircraft and entrusts the student to complete a few independent landings. As a student and later as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI), I can definitely say it is nerve-wracking from each perspective. A student is trying their best to be vigilant about changes in the wind, adjusting the flight controls in order to assure a smooth landing. As an instructor, I was always confident of my students before I stepped out of the plane, but more importantly, wanted them to be confident in themselves. As I gained experience as an instructor and taught dozens of students, I came to enjoy teaching landings the most. For me, the big picture was physically putting the airplane on the ground, but the incremental steps involved in finessing each landing was like art in motion. Each landing is different and I enjoy the challenge of teaching the skills involved.
As I have taken a pause in my aviation career to focus on raising our family, I can appreciate the training I received as a pilot. I continue to teach my children decision making, being independent, confident, and to develop their skills, the same way I taught my flight students over the years. One of my friends says, “You aren’t raising children, you’re raising adults.” I have always taken her words to heart and reflect on them as I think about what I need to teach my children before they “solo” and go off into the world on their own. Included here are four rules I fly by, explained in relation to aviation and motherhood.
Four Rules I Fly By
1. Fly the airplane.
Whether you’re flying a small plane or an airliner, this is one basic rule that every pilot must learn and abide by. In relation to motherhood, I have taught my children they cannot just give up when things get hard or something doesn’t go as planned. The airplane is still moving in a forward direction and so is life. We must continue to “keep flying the airplane” and decide what to do next. The reality in an airplane is you’re going to land, whether you choose to or not. As the pilot, you decide if it’s because you are at your destination or because you ran out of fuel and it’s an emergency landing. Similarly, my children have learned that when life gets hard, keep working at it and “land the plane” so you and your passengers can get to safety. Sometimes that does mean we quit something we intended on doing, while other times it means we push through. Knowing your airplane and your crew is critical to each mission. In our household, I have a dynamic crew. One child may easily push through a task, while another is absolutely devastated and needs a break. No matter what the circumstances, we must keep flying the plane, making the best decision with the information at hand.
2. Learn to solo.
At some point in flight training, a student must solo as one of many steps in attaining their pilot’s license. As my children have grown, I have helped them learn independence along the way. First it was learning things like how to crawl, then walk, then pick out and put on their clothes independently. In order to assist a flight student in soloing, one has to have trust, build their confidence, and reassure them in their abilities along the way. In this way, parenting is similar to training a flight student to solo. When kids learn how to crawl and walk, they are building confidence in themselves as well as learning it is safe to go and explore the world. As the children grow and become independent enough to pick out and put on their own clothes, a parent is constantly learning the process of letting go and soloing their child. Many people have told me over the years they are impressed with something my children have done independently. I just keep thinking, “They have to solo sometime, so might as well be before they leave my nest.” One phrase I taught my children when they were young and learning independence when they left the house is: head, shoulders, knees, and toes. This phrase helped them remember if they needed a hat for their head, a jacket for their shoulders, pants or shorts for their legs (knees), and if they were wearing the appropriate shoes (toes) for whatever activity we were off to do.
3. Don’t negotiate with terrorists.
At some point or another, every child becomes the negotiator. I have been known, on more than a few occasions to say, “I don’t negotiate with terrorists.” First, it opened up a multi-faceted conversation about what negotiation is, in addition to what I mean by the statement. For example, if one of my children wants to eat candy for breakfast, I’m likely to say something like, “Well, I enjoy a good treat in the morning too, let’s pick out something to go with your breakfast and make sure you don’t get a tummy ache from eating just a sucker.” The reality is I really don’t care if they have a sucker for breakfast because lots of people eat donuts, so what’s the difference? However, if they refuse to eat anything but a sucker, then I will calmly remind them that our agreement is a sucker with breakfast not for breakfast. If the child cannot stick to the terms, I will calmly remind them the next time, the answer is no. As a parent, I don’t tolerate demands, but prefer to discuss, be reasonable, and avoid negotiations for unreasonable demands.
4. Don’t fly into a thunderstorm.
People are not always guaranteed to feel calm all the time. Children wake up grumpy occasionally, they may act out for some reason or another, or simply have a bad day. When one sibling is in a bad mood, I have been known to say, “Don’t fly into the thunderstorm.” By this, I mean that if one child who is happy goes to bother the other child who is unhappy, the happy child is likely to get “struck by lightning” by the unhappy child and it is best to stay clear of the whole airspace. This may seem like a simple statement, but it is rather amazing how many times I can say it, and then after an incident happens, “Well, what did you expect when you flew your airplane into that rain cloud? It looked like it was shooting lightning bolts from over here!”
What are some rules you fly by in your household?