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Aircraft Carrier Parenting

Most everyone is familiar with the term "helicopter parent" and the behavior associated with it. But I want to introduce you to a term I've been using for a long time to describe my approach: "aircraft carrier parent". The basic principle is that we, the parents 1) prepare our kids to operate independently but are still there to 2) support them if/when needed. And I can describe it with just four simple concepts: Basic Training, Flight School, Launching, and Support after Launch.
Good to go!

With all the parenting methods out there, I'm surprised that a google search of "aircraft carrier parenting" only turned up five results, and only two of them were relevant. However, there isn't a common definition (yet) for what aircraft carrier parenting is...maybe I can coin the term? One post approached it as "Why can't we try Aircraft Carrier Parenting? Let them come to you." and the other
viewed it as "Aircraft Carrier Parenting: Hands-off at first, but ready to launch an air wing at a moment’s notice." And while I think my interpretation has some commonalities with those, I decided to extend the analogy much, much deeper.

If you didn't know, we are a US Foreign Service family, which means that where we call home moves around the world every couple of years. Kind of like an aircraft carrier, right? Our kids are going to grow up as Third Country Kids ("TCK"), navigating their way through the world much like a pilot...or naval aviator if you're a metaphorical purist.

And while our particular circumstance might be a little out of the ordinary, I honestly think this "aircraft carrier parenting" idea holds equally true across the spectrum to the families who might still be living in the same house they grew up in. Why? Because at its core, this idea is really about the relationship between the parent and the child they are preparing to go off on their own into the world.
This was Greg's great-uncle Jack, a USMC Naval Aviator in WWII
Fair warning: I really, really, really enjoy developing metaphors, especially if there's an analogy or two wrapped inside of it. The idea that we "launch" our kids off into the world is pretty easy to grasp, so I'll start there and work backwards to cover the events leading up to that moment. Then, I'll reset the catapult and talk you through the second half of the concept: support after launch. So the order is going to be 3-2-1...4!And don't worry, I'm not going to use too much Navy or aviation jargon!


#3 Launching
Now, I'm not a Naval fighter pilot, but this guy was and here's are 5 reasons flying a fighter jet is crazy:
#5. Ejecting Is One of the Worst Things That Can Happen to You
#4. Taking Off and Landing on a Carrier Are Way Cooler and Way Scarier Than You Can Imagine
#3. Flying Requires a Lot of Fuel. One Problem: You Don't Carry a Lot of Fuel
#2. Dogfighting Is Mostly About Trying to Stay Conscious
#1. Enemy Fire Is the Least Dangerous Part of Flying

This sounds a bit like life, right? Ok, so how do you prepare your kid for this? Well, they need the knowledge and skills before they get in that situation. And that means training and school.

#2 Flight School
Pilots are held in high regard for maintaining a cool head under pressure. And that's often attributed having the confidence to identify what is important and make decisions based on available information.
1. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate
2. Always leave yourself an “out”
3. Nothing flies without fuel
4. Take off is optional: Landing is Mandatory
5. Stay out of the clouds
6. Never let an airplane take you somewhere that your brain didn’t get to five minutes earlier.

These concepts are based on a working knowledge of the world around them.

  • Ground school (aircraft systems, local course rules, emergency procedures)
  • Contact (takeoff and landing, limited maneuvers, spins)
  • Basic instruments (common instrument scans, generic instrument flight procedures)
  • Precision aerobatics (aileron roll, loop, 1/2 Cuban Eight, barrel roll, wingover, split S, Immelmann)
  • Formation (basic section flight, cruise formation flight)
  • Radio instrument navigation
  • Night familiarization
  • Visual navigation

Incremental steps of increasing difficulty, moving from initial familiarization to practicing increasingly complex skills (landing on a runway before landing on a runway that is moving and being tossed about on the ocean.

"As big as carriers are, the ocean is still bigger, so the boat moves with the waves. Because the carrier deck is angled, your miniscule target is not only moving away from you, but also sliding slowly to the right as you're coming in to land. Now try to hit a target that's pitching up and down 30 feet every few seconds. For extra fun, try to land on a pitching deck at night. Or maybe land in a sandstorm where the carrier comes looming out of the haze a split second before you touch down and your life is in the hands of a bored Boeing programmer who's never flown a day in his or her life. One pilot described landing on a carrier as "jumping out of a 10th story window and trying to hit a postage stamp with your tongue." It is by far the toughest thing a naval aviator has to do;"

Advanced skills for when things go wrong:
When they ditch:

Land survival:
SERE: http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-its-like-at-sere-training-2014-12
"It was about the realization that the pomp and ceremony, the pageantry and adulation that surrounded wearing a Navy officer’s uniform was meaningless without the courage and commitment that underpins them."

(for kids!): http://www.yourjourneythroughflight.com/Outdoor-Survival-Skills-for-Kids-Adults.html

The analogy here is "During this time, you'll learn what it's like to be an independent adult"

#1 Basic Training
There are many reasons why folks join the military, but the purpose of Boot Camp is to ensure that everyone has a common foundation.

  • Commitment to self - set goals and Learn to prioritize
  • Focused on instilling discipline
  • Working with others
  • Learning about your own capabilities

The only time I've ever had my head shaved.

I'll also link to The Art of Manliness "Four Basic Life Lessons from Basic Training" items
1. If You Can’t Carry It, Wear It, or Shoot It, Leave It Behind
2. Run, Shoot, Communicate
3. Practice Mindfulness
4. Outranking Someone Doesn’t Equal Control of Them

Ok, I think that covers the #preparation side of the "aircraft carrier parent" mindset. I could go on and on about the importance of learning new things that you can apply in good times and in bad, but that will be a post for another day. Let's now "reset the catapult" and delve into the support side of the idea.


#4 Support After Launching
So the kid's just launched. Wheels up. airborne. The kid doesn't even have to move out of the house or go off to college or any other milestone event like that, but for practical purposes, let's say that's when they are on their own.

They are following the flight plan they developed and may or not be returning to where they launched from. Once they're gone, you might be moving on in a different direction, so it's important to stay in communication with them.

if they run into trouble while they are out there, they should know the plan because they prepared for those sort of contingencies. They should know if you're going to come to their rescue, or if they need to find their own way out.

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