My parents took us to Grandfather Mountain almost 40 years ago, and while I still remember the black bear, the most vivid recollection is of my trek across the mile-high swinging bridge. (For those of you unfamiliar with the bridge, it was built in 1952 as North Carolina’s highest suspension footbridge to give visitors easy access to the breathtaking view from Grandfather Mountain’s Linville Peak. It was rebuilt in 1999.) It was a mile high! One slip and I would plummet a mile down! It still causes me some angst to think about having to cross that bridge, but I did it. Perhaps that is why I resonate so well with one of the best pieces of parenting advice I have received in all our years at Caldwell Academy. It came from a former Dialectic school principal who used the ominous swinging bridge as an analogy.
“Think of that bridge as the journey throughout the middle school years. There are wide swings to each side, back and forth. It’s unsteady. It’s uneasy. It’s uncomfortable, and at times, it’s even a bit scary,” she said. She equated the bridge with each of our tween’s journey through the middle-school years as they seek to determine boundaries and learn whom the Lord made each one of them to be. It’s a difficult journey, full of ups and downs and the sense of no solid ground underneath. But it’s a part of development, of our kids separating themselves from us and determining who they really are. It may be painful, but it’s also necessary. It’s not a fun ride. I’ve never heard anyone wish to repeat their middle-school experience. I think it’s even worse for this generation with social media, as there is not much escape from the drama.
The best part of her advice was this: “Don’t get on the bridge.” Our job as parents, she explained, was not to be ON the bridge with our kids, inserting ourselves into the problem, but to be on the other side, coaxing them across, reminding them that they can do this, and cheering them on once they arrive. Yes, they may need some wise counsel or coaching along the way, but the journey is theirs, not ours.
Throughout the years, I have encountered a variety of situations where I have had to ask myself, “Am I on the bridge?” Sometimes the answer was no, but sometimes it was yes, and I had to find a way to get off. I think parenting has changed in the last generation. We are quicker to intervene instead of letting our children problem-solve and find resolutions.
I have shared this analogy with numerous friends and it has become a tool for gauging the appropriateness of my parental involvement. Many a time a friend has asked me if I was on the bridge, their gentle way of telling me to get off. I have viewed events through the lens of trying to determine what is “on the bridge” versus being “on the other side” to help my kids develop a strategy to deal with a situation. The don’t-get-on-the-bridge warning from friends has helped me calm down and kept me from saying and doing things I might regret.
Truly, it has been one of the best pieces of parenting advice I have received. And thankfully, it’s one that aligns with the wisdom our Father imparts throughout His Word. Ephesians 6:4 tells us “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In Matthew 18 the principles of conflict resolution instruct us to go to someone if we are having an issue and try to work it out. If we are unable to do so, we begin to include others to help solve the problem. As parents, we would be wise to coach our children through their issues, directing them to seek resolution directly with those involved. Stay off the bridge. Let them try to work it out.
Believe it or not, we have not taken our own kids to Grandfather Mountain. Perhaps we will do so after we finish our Dialectic years as a commemorative celebration. I suspect I will look at that bridge differently as an adult. It turns out that the chasm below the bridge is only 80 feet. The mile-high descriptor speaks to the elevation of the bridge, more than 5,280 feet above sea level. The fear I felt as a young child was far from reality—much like the fear of my children’s middle school years. My, how the perspective changes with some time and an adult viewpoint.