What does parenting in the 21st century have to do with the sinking of a whaling ship, Essex, in 1821. Nothing, really. But I think our approach to parenting has a lot of do with what happened after the Essex sunk and the captain and 20 crew had to decide what to do next. Essentially, they had 3 choices—head to the nearest island grouping about 1200 miles away; head to the Hawaiian islands even farther away; head south 1000 miles to pick up some trade winds that could eventually cast them upon the South American coastline…an additional 3000 miles. All choices were fraught will peril. Rumor had it that the nearest island group was the home of a cannibalistic culture. To head to the Hawaiian Islands meant certain death; the small whaling boats could not weather the severe storm systems at that time of year. The third option, due to its length, held visions of starvation and thirst given the limited supplies aboard the small vessels. Eventually, the captain and crew chose to head to South America. Eight survived the ordeal and not without reverting to cannibalism.
According to Karen Thompson Walker, author of The Age of Miracles, fear is a form of storytelling. The story that the collective fears of the captain and crew of the Essex told them was that cannibalism (even though a rumor) was the worst of all possible outcomes. Because this fear was so lurid, it caused them to underplay the very real and probable outcome of death by starvation given a 4000 mile journey.
I see a direct connection to parenting. Often we underplay very real (and probable) concerns because of sensational (and statistically far less significant) fears. Every spring, I host a college series to inform SAS parents and families about issues concerning financing a college education as well as college admissions and parenting through the process. There is a lot of hype in media about the difficulty of getting into college when in fact more than 50% of four-year colleges/universities accept 75% or more of their applicants. What seems to be less talked about is not getting into college, but actually completing the college degree. It is much more sensational to talk about a handful of colleges who admit less than 10% of their applicant pool. I think a more productive conversation would start with the question, “Apart from the ability to pay, what does it take for a student to complete an undergraduate degree?” followed by the question, “What am I doing today to insure that my student has the qualities/skills that it takes to accomplish this task…preferably in four years?”