On Parenting and Flying

Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable . . . after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly.” ~ Gene Cernan

I’ve learned a great many lessons as an aviator over the years, all of which have left me a better pilot. What I didn’t expect, however, is that those experiences would also improve my parenting skills.

Here are a few of the lessons I discovered in the air that, properly heeded, can make a you a more capable parent on the ground:

  1. A good pilot doesn’t manhandle the controls. A good many pilots are “Type A” personality and they must learn to resist the temptation to force the aircraft to submit to their will. Most aircraft are inherently stable and as such respond more favorable to a gentle touch. Lesson learned: Just as a thumb and a finger on the yoke are almost always more effective than two clenched fists, finding the least forceful intervention when dealing with children provides for an overall smoother experience for both parent and child.
  2. A good pilot uses all available resources. This is true in both pre-flight planning and during the flight. In small aircraft a pilot may even enlist the help of his passengers to keep an eye out for traffic on a busy day. Lesson learned: children love to participate, long to be helpful and love new challenges. Look to include them creatively in what you are doing, especially around the house. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from others who have more experience than you.
  3. A good pilot stays ahead of the aircraft. Many aviation accidents occur because an inexperienced (in relation to the craft or the mission) pilot gets behind the aircraft in his thinking. This is an uncomfortable and unsafe position that every pilot finds himself in at some point in his flying career. In such critical moments he must take a deep breath and say to himself: “Fly the airplane.” Lesson learned: Your children are going to get out ahead of you every now and again. Don’t sweat it! You’re an adult and there is no better time than this to take a deep breath and bring your experience (both to-do and to-not-do) to bear on the situation.
  4. A good pilot learns not to let distractions consume his focus. Distractions are inevitable. A strange noise, an unfamiliar sensation, an unusual sequence of events can happen when you least expect it (if not during every flight over large bodies of water). Take note, keep it in perspective, but don’t forget to…yes, you guessed it…fly the airplane! Lesson learned: Be willing to be surprised by your children. They will inevitably come to you out of left field, despite your best attempts at making them good little girls and boys. Stick to the basics where you can…there is no replacement for a loving, caring and attentive parent. By the way, don’t be afraid to do the unexpected with your children. They will love it!

As I mentioned previously, parenting is a sacred trust and there are many lessons which can be translated from other activities in your life if you are observant and keen to connect the dots. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

7 thoughts on “On Parenting and Flying

  1. Ricardo B.

    Thank God things translate over in principle, or else we’d never have enough time to learn the things we need to learn! I’ve been giving this matter some thought, and as a healthcare provider for example, it’s easy to become distracted by chasing the symptoms of a patient. The true aim is to consistently focus the attention on the big picture, addressing the underlying causes of behaviors and the various excesses and deficiencies which are producing the ill effects. These symptoms can loom so large to the point that if not careful, you lose sight of the target by letting the symptoms distract you and you then lose the power to be of help.
    Being of help in other settings is no different. Take in the symptoms, the problems and such for they are but a window to the real issues and dig deep, keeping your eye on that which always will involve a strong element of personal responsibility from the individual in crisis. I’ve seen what I’ve learned from clinical practice can easily transfer over to dealing with other tough issues that I’ve not had much prior experience with and realized that I’ve already got a head start!


  2. Colin

    It is really interesting to me how we can often apply lessons learned in one part of our life neatly into another part. This is why I think it is so important that we have a love of learning and keep learning all our lives. If you have children, it is important to instill this in them as well. The easy thing about it is that most children are naturally curious and want to do as many things as they can. It is the job of the parent to manage this and make sure they remain safe in their learning, as they do not have the wisdom to figure out what is dangerous yet. We just have to make sure we do not dampen that natural love of learning based on any cynicism that we have, because that is a terrible thing to teach a child!


  3. Vincent

    No amount of ‘ground school’ will obviate the need for learning in the air, especially as realted to the appropriate care of children. Still, just remembering the examples you’ve given here would go a long way to assuring a safe flight! I appreciate your regular emphasis on constant learning, Gregg.


  4. MMc

    Love this. Parenting is a skill just like flying and requires education, practice, courage and I think maybe even the heart for it. Neither has a huge margin for error. Blogs and books like this are continuing education for parents , relatives and care givers for our most precious resource to ensure a better world in the future. Like everything else we should leave children better then we found them. Thanks for your wise words.


  5. Lady Leo

    Excellent points. In my experience if manhandling looked to be my only option I was scared, frustrated or both. All are bad times to lose your wits. Not giving in to the impulse of reaction but standing back. ( putting myself in the “take a break” chair ) so things didn’t escalate, usually will give you more of perspective. There is ALWAYS another option to force with children. Even if it looks forceful it doesn’t carry the chaos of fear or anger.


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