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driver using GPS

What my GPS has taught me about parenting

By Michelle Richards

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Last year my husband and I invested in a Global Positioning System, or GPS. I have joked many times about how this simple electronic device has probably saved our marriage due to no more disagreements about navigating, interpreting maps, and trying to determine our direction based upon the angle of the sun. However, this device has also taught me a great deal about patience, too. And patience is something parents—Unitarian Universalist parents in particular—need in great abundance.

If you are not familiar with a GPS device, it is a small computer that lays out a course for you to follow when you input your destination.  Should you choose to ignore the directions (either on purpose or by mistake), it will simply recalculate the route and give you new directions.  Most GPSes will give out audio directions as well as a visual map with the theory that if you are driving, you may not be able to attend to the visuals on the screen.

The other day I was driving somewhere and, because I wasn’t particularly familiar with the location of my destination, I was using the trusty GPS in my car. Suddenly I remembered that I had forgotten something and had to turn the vehicle around and head back.  The GPS calmly recalculated the route, telling me what I needed to do to get back on track to my original destination. After ignoring the turn suggested for the next intersection, it then switched again and gave me new directions. After I ignored it again, it directed me to make a U turn, if possible.

I turned off the device as I retraced my route back home, but even as I did so, I wondered how much better a parent I would be if I could calmly and patiently recalculate a new solution based upon revised circumstances. Better yet, what if I could communicate this solution in a manner void of anger, impatience, and frustration, even when the person I’m directing appears to disregard my suggestions?

Since it so often seems that much of my direction to my children is of a tedious repetitive nature (“Please shut the door, we don’t want bugs in the house” or “Leaving our coat, backpack, shoes, and other assorted items in the middle of the room can make someone trip”), having the GPS’s ability to calmly reframe the situation could especially come in handy.

The next time I need to face a misguided question of injustice from children who have been raised in a relatively privileged home (“How come she gets to stay up later?”), I don’t have to fall back upon the conversation-stoppers “Because I said so!” or “Because she’s older.” When stereotypes are repeated through ignorance, I can counter them with a steady comment of why those assumptions are untrue.  And finally, when my teenager chooses to disregard my advice and it turns out badly, I can circumvent “I told you so” for comforting words and suggestions on how she can make a “U” turn (if possible).

Photograph above ©2009 by kingwu/iStockPhoto

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