What Dad Thinks: Avoiding Shipwreck and Mutiny

Avoiding Shipwreck & Mutiny - What My Kids Read

The kind of lifestyle our family has chosen sometimes seems to have an unusually large supply of complexities, challenges and instability. Engineering a fledgling business, running this blog, taming four creatively independent personalities, keeping our marriage healthy, and forcing ourselves to endure practically every activity together “as a family” definitely has lots of ups and downs.  In fact, it is a lot like being in a ship out at sea. Sometimes you just sit back and watch the sun set over the horizon casting its golden tinsel on the gentle waves. Hopefully your life, like ours, is full of these moments to enjoy, but we also have to face the raging storms and the enemy battleships. As captain of this vessel, I have two main areas of concern: the mission and the welfare of the crew. Neglecting either one could be disastrous: sinking on the one hand, mutiny on the other.

Although I typically am not a fan of strenuous or drawn out analogies, especially preachy ones, I have used this analogy with some success with my two boys. Of course they relate to the adventure and danger of the high seas, but I think it’s the lowly seaman or even the cabin boy that they really identify with, especially when the chores are being doled out. I don’t know about your family, but resistance to orders can be all too common. As Jen has mentioned before, I tend to value good reasoning and understanding the “why” behind our actions. (I don’t think she said it that way.) Anyway, if not balanced with consistent discipline, that tendency in a parent can breed something on the scale between complaining and rebellion, as if they needed any encouragement. This analogy is one of my attempts to find balance here and help the kids see life through my eyes a bit. Here is how I’ve put it to them.

Avoiding Shipwreck & Mutiny - What My Kids Read

Imagine a ship at sea where each time the captain asked for the deck to be swabbed, the first mate would reply back “But we did that yesterday, what’s the point?” Then imagine after the captain tries to quickly explain the reasoning behind daily scrubbing (something about salt buildup), the first mate exclaims “It seems pointless to me!” followed by “You know, it’s unfair how much work I have to do. The ship cook only has to work hard three times a day and I am basically working, like 90% harder than him!” Now imagine this general attitude trickling down to every job and every member of the crew. Despite the annoyance, we may not feel the real effect of this way of conducting ship-business, that is, not until we face a real trial.

I asked my son to imagine another ship where the captain gives clear orders that are quickly obeyed to the tune of a resounding “Aye, aye, Sir!” Imagine that, all other things being equal that these two ships are going to engage in a naval battle against each other. Which one do you think will end up getting sunk? Even at the most defiant moments, the logic is hard to escape:

“Liam, load the cannons!”

“Paul! Where is the ammo?”

“It was your turn to put it up!”

“Liam, please go find the ammo, now!”

“Paul didn’t put them up, he should have to get them!”

“Liam, we need the ammo now!”

“But I think it is unfair the way we…”

BOOM! We are sunk.

Avoiding Shipwreck & Mutiny - What My Kids Read

I want my kids to understand that their feedback is important, and I genuinely want to know what they think about things. I also want to know how they are feeling about things. But that doesn’t mean that they can engage in questioning or complaining dialog whenever and however they want. That is only training them that their feelings of the moment are the most important factors in their behavior. In our home, there are two kinds of questions. There is the question that genuinely seeks understanding in order to know my thoughts and obey better, and there is another kind of question that is just a complaint in disguise and seeks only to stall, prevent, and discourage obedience. We try to never allow the second type of question in our home. And even if you have an acceptable question, there is still a proper time and manner of asking it. The fact is that no matter how much I want to know your thoughts, regardless of how deeply I want you to understand my reasons for running the ship the way I do, refusing to adhere to the right question, right time, right manner system can sink the ship or plant the seeds of mutiny.

So that’s how I try to run things around here. How do you avoid shipwreck and mutiny?



  1. mlandersauthor says:

    As my children are much younger I can’t say that we have truly gotten to this point yet, but I know my own tendency is toward reasoning things out as well, so this is really helpful for thinking ahead.
    I wonder if perhaps a standard of allowing the question to come after follow-through on the request would automatically begin to sift through the legitimacy of the questions and even curb the initial desire to ask with deceptive motivation?

  2. David Reaves says:


    Yes I agree. Let them obey first then ask why is a simple rule that is easy to understand. Good thought. They need to understand that timing and tone is every bit as important as the question itself. Even if they have a legit question, they still need to be trained to consider timing and tone.

So what do you think?

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