Revising Our Maps

Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.

I was recently interviewed about how I attempt to balance my personal and professional life.  At first I found this to be a challenging question because I often feel unbalanced. But as I started talking, what I kept finding myself saying in many ways, in different words, was that I’m constantly “revising my map.”

What I meant by that is that I have a sense of direction of what works, how to get where I need to go, and how to get my kids to where they need to go—but that sense of direction changes.  It must.  Why?  Because the terrain is also constantly changing as a result of the chaos in our lives, the demands on us, the needs of our children, our own needs, who our children are becoming, and who we are becoming.  We can’t successfully navigate well if we don’t revise our maps.  We must consistently take stock of where we are and where we want to go, revising the best path to get there.

The same goes for our kids:  we must constantly revise our maps of who they are.  Like it or not, bittersweet as it is, they change all the time.  Some of this change is from the natural maturation that comes from development, reaching new cognitive, spiritual, emotional, and relational capacity.  Some of this change is from experiences they have, who they spend time with, what challenges they overcome, how they spend their time, etc.

But sometimes we forget that they change.  We use old maps to guide us as parents.  We navigate based on who our child WAS, not on who they are now.  Have you ever realized you were doing something for your child out of habit or because you haven’t thought about it, and then realized that your child was perfectly capable of doing it for himself?  These are examples of times we need to revise our maps.

This lesson in Parental Cartography brings me to Camp Chippewa.  The experience of going to camp changes kids, often in significant ways.  When your son comes home, you might notice that he’s more confident, more independent, or different in some other subtle or significant ways.  I remember the first year my oldest son returned from camp and I started to put sunscreen on him.  He laughed and said, “Mom, I’ve been putting my own sunscreen on for two weeks without you.  I can handle it.”  Revision moment.  I was using a map that had changed significantly in two short weeks.

So when your camper comes home, I want to encourage you to see him with new eyes, to revise your map of him.  An outdated map leads to frustration for both of you.  It can actually lead us away from our intended path.  But an updated map allows us to intentionally and successfully reach our destination.

Tina Payne Bryson, PhD.