Parenting. Plimsoll lines. Priorities. A Plimsoll line illustrates a maritime law that involves oceans, ballast, and cargo ships. This seemingly unrelated concept became an insightful parenting metaphor in my friend Teresa’s recent MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) talk.
In the 1870s, British Parliament member Samuel Plimsoll examined the ongoing problem of overloaded commercial shipping vessels sinking at sea. He developed maximum depth standards for safe loading of ships’ cargo. These standards evaluated factors like salt/sea water, size of ship, time of year, and type of load to determine how deeply the ship could be immersed in water and still safely carry cargo. In 1876, British law mandated that load limits be indicated by a reference line painted on the ship’s hull. These reference lines became known as Plimsoll lines which remain a part of international maritime law.
A Plimsoll line that disappears underwater is an obvious mark of an overloaded ship. Teresa emphasized that principle to the mothers at our MOPS meeting. She spoke of the importance of evaluating our individual situation and then determining our “Plimsoll line,” the point at which we are maximally loaded with responsibilities. Teresa emphasized that, just as Plimsoll lines take into account load factors and seasons, so we need to determine what we can manage and how close we are to sinking.
Teresa’s motivating talk centered on our ultimate goal of following Christ and how we set goals based upon that foundation. As she described how to set realistic parenting and personal goals, Teresa cautioned us to avoid busy-ness and distractions that keep us from doing what God wants us to do. She encouraged us to exercise our “no muscle” by deliberately saying no to activities that would exceed our Plimsoll lines and cause us to sink.
Although she missed Teresa’s talk, our discussion group leader Staci became a great example of using a Plimsoll line. With three boys ages five and under, Staci is a dynamic example of following Christ. As a MOPS mentor mom, I am honored to be part of Staci’s table. On the Wednesdays that MOPS does not meet, Staci sets up playdates for our group. She is involved with high-schoolers, both in her church as youth group helper and in the community as the high school musical choreographer.
On the MOPS morning that Teresa spoke, Staci decided to stay home with her boys. No specific reason, but she said they needed to have a quiet day at home. Little did Staci realize that exercising her “no muscle” in that way was a much-needed preparation for what happened later. That night, her son Jace became sick with vomiting and a fever. Because Staci had recognized her Plimsoll line and cut back on her daytime activities, she had the resources for her long night of illness-assessing, child-comforting, and linen-changing. Staci’s choice also spared the other MOPS’ kids from sharing the nasty virus.
Dear God, please give us wisdom to establish Plimsoll lines for our lives. Teach us how to set goals and relevant boundaries as we follow Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.