Tending the Bridges

posted by Sharon May 17, 2011 0 comments

A river runs through downtown Chicago, and drawbridges allow boats to move freely to wherever they are headed.

A bridge tender operates these bridges from a little “house” on the edge of the bridge (or at least that’s how it worked when these were built). Each house is different and a fascinating part of the city’s architecture.

I looked up the duties of the bridge tender, and I’m thinking these tenders have something in common with parents who are guiding their children through life’s river.

  • Move levers to activate traffic signals, navigation lights, and alarms.

Give your children freedom to move forward, explore, learn, try new things. Be a “yes” person, but sound the alarm when genuine danger arises.

  • Record names, types, and destinations of vessels passing through bridge openings or locks, and numbers of trains or vehicles crossing bridges.

Know your children’s friends, especially as they move into the teen years.


  • Prepare accident reports.

When your child runs up against something jarring or upsetting, be there to talk about it, get to know the details, see if you should help in some way or maybe just listen.





  • Control machinery to open and close canal locks and dams, railroad or highway drawbridges, or horizontally or vertically adjustable bridges.

Be in charge. Give them room to sail but be the parent.



  • Direct movements of vessels in locks or bridge areas, using signals, telecommunication equipment, or loudspeakers.

Directing children can call for signals as subtle as a facial expression, texts, and occasionally a loud voice. I never mastered the loud voice, though my son actually tried to train me in this. I failed.

  • Observe position and progress of vessels to ensure best utilization of lock spaces or bridge opening spaces.

Observe position and progress of your children. What are their current interests? What are your children working on and learning? If your child is stalled or needs inspiration, how can you help?

  • Maintain and guard stations in bridges to check waterways for boat traffic.

To guard, you have to be there. Physically and mentally.

  • Perform maintenance duties such as sweeping, painting, and yard work to keep facilities clean and in order.

Your home doesn’t need to be super clean but it can be a welcoming, warm place for your children to come home to, even when they are grown.


  • Check that bridges are clear of vehicles and pedestrians prior to opening.

Consider others and their needs as they interact with your children.


  •  Raise drawbridges and observe passage of water traffic, then lower drawbridges and raise automobile gates.

This seems self-evident, right? Sometimes parenting is just plain parenting, day in and day out. And every-day plain parenting can seem so routine but it’s what really matters.

  • Operate lighthouses to assist marine passage near shores and dangerous waters.

Give guidance by words or example that will assist your children to keep moving in the direction they should be going. Let your light shine.

*Photos taken on the architecture boat tour; if you’re ever in Chicago, this is a not-to-be-missed tour! For info, check out http://www.chicagotours.us.

You may also like

Leave a Comment