What a family trip to Colorado taught me about riding a horse and building a trusting family.
If you have ever ridden a horse you know that your first time in the saddle can be a bit unnerving and an unexpected motion from horse can leave you hanging on for dear life to the reins and the saddle. It takes a bit of getting used to the horse and its motion and its willingness to have you riding on its back before you can loosen your grip and avoid falling off of the horse. With a bit of experience, you as the rider get to know the horse and gradually you learn to let go of your tight grip. The ride becomes more pleasant as you get more comfortable and you learn the moves of the horse and how to get it to respond to you with less effort. In other words you build a relationship.
Not long ago my family was on a trip to Colorado and we took a trail ride up into the mountains. It was beautiful and the kids loved every minute of it. At one point in the ride the trail guide led us down a steep portion of the trail and I heard her telling my youngest son, “Hold the reins loosely and let the horse pick its footing.” It occurred to me later that that advice from that trail guide would work really well for men as they build their families. Although love puts families together, trust is the glue that keeps them together. Just like the horse and rider, husbands and wives learn to trust each other. When couples have children, the kids who do the best are the ones who absorb this trust from their parents.
So where does this start? Truthfully it starts with the values you learned from your family. Families that learn to trust each other breed children who have a strong moral center because there are beliefs about what is right and wrong and these get passed down to children by living example. Not only do Mom and Dad tell Junior what he should and should not do, they live their lives in a way that agrees with what they told Junior. By keeping what you say and what you do in line as much as possible, trust grows and it is easier to let kids experience life on their own with guidance from mom and dad.
So what does it feel like to be the man of the house who can hold the reins loosely? There is an old story about a successful man with a large and loving family where all of the children were destined to be even more successful than him. The family’s success was well known in town and a young reporter was assigned to interview the man for a newspaper story. The reporter asked many questions about child rearing and the man gave great answers. Finally, the young reporter asked a last question. “Sir, what about your relationship with your wife? What makes that relationship strong?” The man was quiet for a time and finally answered, “Well, you see I let my wife make all of the small decisions and I make all of the big ones.” “But Sir” replied the shocked reporter, “it is well known in town that your wife seems to call the shots in your relationship and make most of the decisions for the family.” The man smiled and said, “Like I said, I let my wife make all the small decisions and she does. In 25 years of marriage she’s done such a good job based on what we believe that there have been no big decisions.”
Now this might be one way that men can hold the reins loosely but it certainly isn’t the only one. No two families look the same. About the only thing that can be said is that a family used to a loose rein is never dull. To me, holding the rein loosely means that my wife and I have some freedom to engage the world together in ways that meet our individual needs. She loves to garden, redo the house (endlessly) and watch our kids’ activities. I like to be involved in politics and the kids’ school and watch our kids’ activities. We do things together and separately. We have always believed that our kids are priority one and we spent a lot of time training them how to get along, be polite to others, share, and help people. In this way, we have built trust in our children and now we hold the reins loosely.
Our children are fully engaged in life. That means that we are on the run to soccer games, football games, band concerts, track meets and everything else they do. They know that we keep up with what they do and they live within the boundaries. Ronald Reagan talked about “Trust but verify” when he was talking about Russian disarmament. Keeping kids within the boundaries is basically the same approach. Small steps done well mean larger steps allowed. Errors in judgment mean that the boundaries are tightened until trust is rebuilt. In everything we do, there is a give and take and all of what we do has to be based on our trust in each other. Trust abused takes time to build back.
Holding the reins loosely can be a very scary thing because you are always at risk to have something go goofy on you. In the long run, family relationships are healthier when trust and love are at the center of the relationships in the family.
Photo: Just chaos/flickr