The Whole-Brain Child and the River of Well-Being

In 2012 I hosted a book group on my blog discussing The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This post is the first in a series of reflections on each chapter. I’ll post one each day this week. I hope you find them helpful! Lisa 9/24/16

Since reading Chapter 1: Parenting With the Brain in Mind , I’ve been thinking about the authors’ simple explanation of mental and emotional health as a “river of well-being.”

They describe it using the example of being in a canoe floating peacefully down the center of a river.  Life is calm, you feel good, everything is in balance.

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The river has two banks and sometimes we drift toward one or the other.

One bank represents Chaos.

Life is out of control, everything feels volatile and unstable, like our canoe just might tip over.  That’s not too hard for me to imagine – how about you?

It feels terrible near that bank, so we push back toward the center of the river.  But if we paddle too hard, we may end up reaching the other bank.

And this is what I found most fascinating.

The other bank represents Rigidity.

The authors write,

As opposed to being out of control, rigidity is when you are imposing control on everything and everyone around you.”  When we hit this bank, we have difficulty seeing clearly, we lose our creativity for solving problems, and flexibility is gone.

As I read this, I thought about our family.  When children with significant challenges joined our family, we were plunged into chaos.  My little canoe nearly capsized by that bank.

The more chaos we experienced, the more we longed to restore balance, and we paddled hard, crazy hard, sweat dripping down our chins, trying to reach the center of the river.

At times we shot right past it and slammed into the bank of rigidity.

Let me tell you, that feels good for a very short time, but there is no life there.

The energy consumed in the effort to control everyone and everything is phenomenal and in the end – there is no real life and certainly no joy on that bank.

We’re doing our best to keep to the middle of the river.  Most days we drift toward chaos, and I’m pretty tired of paddling back to the center, but God gives strength to weak arms and rescues us from drowning near either bank.

Question: What do you think of  this description.  Have you found it to be true for you – chaos on one side, rigidity on the other?  How do you keep to the middle of the river?

Have a great day, friends, and encourage one another.


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Carrie
    October 25, 2012

    This is a GREAT book! The description of each side if the river bank is one that is very clear and describes the balance of Resting in The Lord while we work hard at paddling hard while our hearts seek rest in motion.
    (Rest in motion is something we as a family with kids from hard places have had to come to grips with. Seems like an oxy moron but we realize that life looks different than it used to, looks different than most other families around us… But looks just right to The Lord!!
    So here's to bouncing off each side of the river bank while enjoying our moments of balance now and then in the middle of this blessed river journey!!!

  2. Emily
    October 25, 2012

    "I’m pretty tired of paddling back to the center, but God gives strength to weak arms and rescues us from drowning near either bank."

    Amen. Praying for you!

  3. courtney
    October 25, 2012

    just joined the book group. read chapter one last night.

    i loved the illustration. i realized i FEAR chaos and often live close to rigidity to stay as far away as possible. hoping to learn how to stay more in the middle!

  4. Deb
    October 25, 2012

    This spoke to me at my core:
    The energy consumed in the effort to control everyone and everything is phenomenal and in the end – there is no real life and certainly no joy on that bank.

    And yet I am so overwhelmed on the chaos side it feels like drowning slowly every day. So I cling to the bank of rigidity-because at least the outcome is known and predicatable. How sad that I can "SEE" it – yet cannot imagine letting go for fear of it going too far the other way. Over the course of my life – both before and after we adopted our children from hard places – I have clung to the bank of rigidity (predictability, control) until my hands were blistered and bloody and I finally let go and LET GOD out of sheer exhaustion and pain. God always takes care of me – always provides – but as my hands heal and my energy returns I swim right back over to the rigid side and grip it with all my might!

  5. Elizabeth Andrews Carter
    October 25, 2012

    I haven't started reading yet, so I cannot comment on this as far as our family life, however I love the description of the canoe and the two banks. That example is how Jack lives everyday. It's so much better than it used to be, but when chaos invades his space/life he paddles very, very hard and slams into rigidity, which isn't any fun at all for anyone, especially him. I really like this example!


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