4 Things Learning to Sail Has Taught Me About Correcting My Kids

by Matt Miller.

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. (Proverbs 15:31)

 

This past summer my 17-year old son Aidan and I had the amazing experience of learning to sail a 50 ft. boat off the coast of Florida. The feeling of a boat keeled over at a 45-degree angle, the sails full of wind as we raced over the waves was amazing! In addition to being a great father/son experience, learning to sail has given me a useful metaphor for raising my kids, especially in the ever-challenging arena of correction.

 

Correction implies direction

Sailing a boat requires constant course corrections—but these corrections assume that a direction has been set.  In the same way, a foundation has to be laid in the lives of our children that defines the heart we want to see in them. Thankfully, this foundation does not have to be complicated. Jesus said that two commands—love God and love people—sum up all of the law and the prophets (basically meaning the whole Bible). Think about the 10 commandments—all of them can be boiled down to one of these two ideas, and all of the principles or rules for a healthy household can as well. In our family, loving God and loving people sets the life direction we expect to see in our kids, and whenever we see them straying from one of these core commands, we know it is time for a “course correction”. Without laying this foundation, can we really expect to be able to correct our kids? Without a clearly communicated standard, correction can seem arbitrary and lead to frustration and rebellion.

 

To sail straight, you have to keep your eyes on something fixed

As we were learning to sail, one of the greatest challenges was keeping the boat on the correct heading. It was so easy to become distracted by something happening on deck or something on the water and realize that the boat was no longer heading in the right direction. My friend Paul, who organized the trip, gave some wise advice. He told us to pick some stationary feature far off on the horizon, such as a bridge or an island, and keep the bow of the boat aligned with it. This made it much easier to hold a course.

Rules can be an important part of raising kids, especially if those rules are based upon a Biblical standard. But for our children to truly keep a course towards a Godly life, they need something to fix their eyes on that goes beyond any particular rule—they need to be captivated by Jesus. It is easy to develop a set of rules for the family, teach them to our kids, and try to hold them to them, but if our kids don’t understand the reason for those rules, they may not be able to consistently keep them. Do you have a list of family rules? How do they connect to the life or characteristics of Jesus? We are raising our kids not to follow a particular moral or religious code, but instead to follow a person—Jesus.

 

Even the captain makes mistakes

Something unexpected happened early in our trip that help us “newbies” feel a little better about our mistakes. When our captain was pulling out of the dock, he miscalculated and nearly sheared off the box containing our life saving equipment. We were able to salvage the box and laugh off the mistake, but more importantly, we realized that there would be grace for mistakes and even our captain would make them!

Our kids need to know that we are not perfect, and we have to be willing to apologize when we do something wrong. I remember a particular time when I corrected my son in anger. I don’t remember what he did, but I do remember lashing out against him verbally and physically in a way that I immediately knew was inappropriate. Instead of giving “live-giving correction”, as the proverb says, my correction was harsh and shaming. I had broken one of my own parenting rules—never correct in anger, rather correct in love. After taking a couple of minutes to calm down, I returned to my son and apologized for the way I treated him. This led to a conversation in which we were able to talk about the root issues of his behavior and in which I was able to share with him my imperfect journey of trying to be like Christ. The result was correction in both of our lives.

 

Sometimes you have to drop anchor and play in the water!

Some of the most enjoyable times during our trip were when we furled the sails, dropped anchor, and dove of the boat into the water. It was important to have moments to rest from the rigor of constantly working the sails and helm to keep the boat on course and just have fun!

Our kids also need time to enjoy being with us—time to laugh and play. The relational capital that we will build up through such times of light-hearted play will help keep our kids hearts soft when we need to speak a word of correction to them.

I hope these insights from our sailing journey will be a blessing to you as you continue the challenging but rewarding journey of raising your children!

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Matt Miller is the husband of Andrea and father of 4 amazing kids—Abigail (19), who is a Freshman at Lipscomb University, Aidan (17), who is a senior in high school and a young entrepreneur who just opened the first specialty coffee shop in our city, Asher (13) who is an avid reader and writer, and Anna (10) who loves art and baking. Matt is the director of Virunga Valley Academy, a Christian international school in Musanze, Rwanda, which is a platform from which the Miller family serves the people of their city. Matt and his family value creativity, community, and discovering how to follow Jesus. When they are not working with the next generation of Rwandan leaders at VVA, they enjoy encouraging and learning from an amazing group of disciples of Jesus in Rwanda who have started over 1,000 house churches over the past 7 years.