I was blessed to grow up in the era of the space shuttle missions. It was exciting and fascinating to watch space shuttle launches on television. Sometimes there was a delay because of weather or a glitch that had to be remedied. Eventually the words would be spoken “all systems are go!” and with those words the launch sequence would begin. When the launch of a rocket begins it is nearly impossible to safely abort the mission. Fuel has been ignited and great amounts of energy are being released to lift the craft off the earth and into space. Astronauts, with all their training, at this point are only along for the ride. Many other people are working with great enthusiasm watching instrument panels and closely monitoring every detail of the launch. Even with all the latest technology at their disposal the scientists and engineers at mission control can do little more than observe as the rocket or shuttle forcefully fights the pull of gravity. A million things can go wrong and prematurely end the mission, sometimes with dire results. The deciding factor of success or failure was determined by the predictability and function of every system involved in the process.
There are some parallels between rocket launches and family lives. Relationships tend to be built on behavior patterns. Those patterns often develop into systems. A scene that played out on a regular basis in our household involved taking out the trash. As a dad it seemed reasonable to me to create various rules. One stated house rule was that whoever filled the garbage can was responsible to take out the trash and put a clean bag in the can. The idea was to prevent an overflow of refuse and potentially stop the argument of “not my turn.” The result was my kids became excellent compactors. Often I would find the plastic can in the kitchen bulging outward from trash being pushed down to appear less than full. The problem with this method is it is nearly impossible to remove the bag and contents without creating a mess. Normally the events would happen in the following order;
The countdown begins. The system goes into effect. Can is full, child compacts. Next child adds to the mass and compacts more. Capacity is beyond max. Dad sees bulging can and orders a child to take out garbage. Immediately the child protests. Dad loses temper and rockets are ignited. With an unleashing of emotional energy the parent and child are now in for a loud ride with no sense of control. Ultimately the child begrudgingly removes the trash while dad tries to understand what just happened. An emotional mess was created in an attempt to have physical garbage removed from the house.
One day I see the bulging can. I took out the garbage and had a child put a clean bag in the can. The child was cautiously obedient. The same scene played out again a few days later. This time I explained it’s not worth all the fuss just to empty a waste container. The garbage was never compacted again, however, the children still needed to be told to take out the trash. The system had been changed. It would be nice to say “and they lived happily ever after” but that is not real life. Ultimately all three kids grew up to be productive members of society and that is a successful launch.
To help a child launch from home into life requires accepting, modifying, and changing the appropriate behaviors. In every area of parenting systems are inevitably formed. Most systems are created in the form of communication. A baby cries to have a need met. This is an acceptable behavior at that time. As the child grows they learn other ways to communicate a need to be met. At some point in life it is no longer acceptable to cry at the top of their lungs because a person is hungry. Once a child is old enough to cook a steak the behavior of an infant is unacceptable. If the child does not develop into an adult, failure to launch is inevitable.
Every relationship humans are involved in will develop systems. The desire should be to develop ones that are healthy to the individuals involved. The bible contains many useful guidelines for raising children as well as developing healthy relationships with others. A few verses that come to mind are:
Exodus 20:12 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
Ephesians 6:4 and you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Romans 14:19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.
Rev. Burt Schwab