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PATHFINDER - A System of Recovery for Parents

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Pathfinder: Tools for Raising Responsible Children - Section 2

A. What's it Mean?

  • P Parenting - Parenting principles based on the TEA system by which we change our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions to healthy rational and realistic ways of interacting with our children.

  • A Activating - Activating children's self esteem over the life span.

  • T Tracking - Tracking structures for children

  • H Hugging - Hugging children to create a healthy bond.

  • F Formulating - Formulating behavioral consequences to encourage personal responsibility in children.

  • I Intervening - Intervening in loss issues facing children.

  • N Negotiating - Negotiating to advocate for children's rights.

  • D Discussing - Discussing issues with children with open, honest, and feelings oriented communication.

  • E Establishing - Establishing health boundaries with adolescent and young adult children to insure personal emotional health.

  • R Releasing - Releasing ourselves of shame and guilt over mistakes made as parents through self-forgiveness.


B. Goal of Pathfinder Model

PATHFINDER is a system by which parents can assist their children to have healthy self-esteem. In order to assist others to have good self-esteem, parents need to have healthy self-esteem themselves. The systems of recovery of the SEA'S Program also known as Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous contains the summation of what is needed in order to gain healthy self-esteem. The SEA'S system of recovery from low self-esteem contains procedures which allow people to cope with anxiety, stress, panic, fears, anger, resentment, guilt, loneliness, abandonment, the need to control, and relapsing into old behaviors. The SEA'S system teaches adults to re-parent their broken and wounded inner children which is their inner spirit. In Growing Down: Tools for Healing the Inner Child tools for healing and awakening the inner spirit are presented which enable parents to heal their inner children by re-parenting and becoming Pathfinders for themselves. Parents must be Pathfinders to themselves and their inner children before they can be effective Pathfinders for their own children.

C. Who Should Use this Model

PATHFINDER is the technique of dealing with children in a positively esteeming way which increases their belief in themselves. The ability to allow children to be their own people requires a lot of exercise and practice. It also requires that parents receive support from others who are understanding and who can call them on it when they are relapsing back into an over-controlling mode. When there are two or more parenting figures in the lives of children, it is important that they create a team-like approach and are consistent in their philosophy and treatment, if self-esteem is to be enhanced.

For single parent-led families and step-families, PATHFINDER is an appealing mode of parenting because it requires so little direct supervision and effort to encourage the development of healthy children no matter what is the make up of the parenting unit. The ability of parenting figures to agree on PATHFINDER technologies is much more feasible when all parties involved have a reasonable and realistic outlook on the need to give children as healthy a preparation for life as possible.

Where it is impossible for both natural parents to communicate in a healthy manner, it is still possible for one of the parents to be a Pathfinder as long as that parent does not resort to putting down the other parent in the eyes of the children. The children will benefit from the PATHFINDER techniques even if from only one parent. The children will have to determine for themselves what is important to retain or reject from the messages transmitted by the non-pathfinding parent. Unconditional acceptance and love are key formulas which the children will learn in the Pathfinder's home and therefore will be able to accept and love the non-pathfinding parent for who and what that person is. The children will be able to judge on their own the merit or lack of merit of the directions being given them by their non-pathfinding parent

D. Caution to New Pathfinders

In the beginning, as parents initiate pathfinding technology in their home environment, the children will be resistant. This is because it is new and different and will require a change in their attitudes, beliefs, and understandings about themselves and others. They may resist the notion that they are solely responsible for the consequences for their own behaviors. They may begin to act out and rebel because it does not feel normal or the way it has always felt in the family. This reaction is to be expected. Novice Pathfinders will need a great deal of support and help during this transition in the changing family scene. The parents will need to depend on their support groups to clarify their thinking and emotional reaction to the children's response to the changes in parenting style.

E. Pathfinder is an "Accepting Powerlessness Model"

PATHFINDER is a reality based parental system which accepts that parents cannot control the outcomes of the lives of their children. This system requires that parents have a spirituality with a Higher Power. The twelve step program of Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous provides an outline of the type spirituality needed by Pathfinders. The twelve steps are fully detailed in the SEA's Program Manual. It is only by handing over the lack of control over others can Pathfinders maintain a sense of serenity when their children appear to be getting worse as a result of implementing this new model of parenting. Pathfinders have to develop a belief system which includes the notion that hardship is a pathway to peace. They need to accept that they are powerless to change or control other people, places, things, or circumstances in their children's lives. They need a strength greater than themselves to draw upon, when they find themselves weakening in resolve and commitment to no longer try to exercise excessive control in their children's lives. This is especially true when their offspring appear to be asking them to resume the old over-controlling model used on them before.

F. Pathfinder is a Thinking Parents Model Based on Systems Thinking

The PATHFINDER system is a culmination of all the tools needed to recover from low self-esteem. Parents need to be clear with themselves as to why they are now changing their parenting style. They need to accept that by adopting this non-controlling, non-dependency inducing and non-threatening model they will be reducing the stress not only in their own lives but also in the lives of their children. This model requires parents to fully explore the old irrational beliefs which have blocked them in the past from letting go of control. This model requires parents to be open to their own feelings and emotions. The PATHFINDER system is based on the tools of effective feelings based communication including actively listening for feeling, responding to feelings, and problem solving through clarification of feelings. This system requires parents to know the difference between dysfunctional and healthy patterns of behaving. The system involves the parents in actively grieving the losses in their lives so as not to be burdened with denial or bargaining. They need to accept that their own lives have been full of loss and pain which has shaped them into being who they are today. PATHFINDER is based on the assumption that parents will handle all forms of their anger in healthy ways without burdening or scarring their children with it. To have healthy relationships with their children, Pathfinders need to know what makes a healthy relationship and how to sustain it. Pathfinders need to learn all the different forms of control and how not to get caught up in them. They need to know how to alleviate the stress and burnout parents experience who are over-responsible, guilt driven or perfectionistic in their pursuit of being good parents.

The PATHFINDER system utilizes all of the six SEA's Systems needed for the recovery from the behavioral consequences of low self-esteem. These systems are fully explained in the Self-Esteem Seekers Anonymous - The SEA'S Program Manual. The following is a short explanation of them.

1. The TEA System

  • T - Thoughts

  • E - Emotions

  • A - Actions


This system emphasizes that people cannot change their ways of acting unless they first change their thinking and feelings about the target behaviors. Parents need to be cautious in adopting the Pathfinder principles in their family life until they have fully understood them and are ready for the emotional responses this model of parenting provokes in themselves and their children.

2. The ALERT System

  • A - Assess

  • L - Lessen

  • E - Ease

  • R - Relax

  • T - Take Action


This system is utilized when people are confronted with a fear, challenge, pressure or crisis which causes anxiety, panic or stress. The underlying principle is that distress is the result of irrational thinking when confronting a threatening stimulus. The goal is to relax oneself by identifying the irrational beliefs and to replace them with rational and reality based alternatives. Once the thoughts are clarified, then the person can relax and face the challenge in a healthier way. Parents will need to use this system as they begin to implement the Pathfinder system and face the negative challenges of their children to this new way of relating.

3. The ANGER System

  • A - Accept

  • N - Name

  • G - Get it out

  • E - Energize

  • R - Resume


This system is utilized when people are confronted with anger and have a need to release the anger in order to return to a more relaxed and less stressful mind set. They must first accept that they are angry and name what it is that is angering them. They next need to get the anger out by not showering it on the people around them, but rather on some inanimate objects like punching bags, pillows, cushions, or other safe outlets for their venting. Once they have expelled their anger in a safe way, they will feel energized and ready to resume their daily living. Parents need to utilize this system as they use the Pathfinder system to get out their anger over their children's responses to their parenting style.

4. The CHILD System

  • C - Calm

  • H - Heal

  • I - Inform

  • L - Love

  • D - Direct


This system involves people in an inner healing experience by calming their inner spirit when they are feeling lonely, forgotten, or abandoned. The calming comes from embracing their inner children as they are simultaneously embraced by their Higher Power. Healing comes from informing the inner child of positive affirmations of love and unconditional self-acceptance. This enables people to re-parent themselves with healthy self-esteem enhancing messages and feelings. Parents will need this system to provide themselves Pathfinder re-parenting to comfort themselves as they sense the pain of the loosening of their grip of control over their children.

5. The LET GO System

  • L - Lighten Pressure

  • E - Exercise Rights

  • T - Take Steps

  • G - Give up Need

  • O - Order Life


This system involves people in releasing the need to control other people, places, things, and circumstances which are not controllable or susceptible to being changed by them. This involves the lightening of the pressure to: fix, be a caretaker, control, change, rescue, enable, give advice, and correct others. The right not to intervene is then exercised by the taking steps to stay detached and not hooked by the other's manipulation to get them involved. This is a decision to commit to give up the need to be over-controlling and to reorder life to reflect this decision. Pathfinder is a Let Go system for parents. It is the letting go of the need to control their children's lives.

6. The RELAPSE System

  • R - Recognize

  • E - Escape

  • L - Learn

  • A - Act

  • P - Protect

  • S - Support

  • E - Evaluate


The SEA's Program belief is that recovery from the behavioral consequences of low self-esteem is a life long process. It involves a change in life-style which includes ongoing use of the SEA's program of recovery; restructuring personal time; eating a balanced diet; getting adequate and restful sleep; daily aerobic exercise; maintaining physical health; restructuring of home, work, and community involvement; maintaining a social support network; stress management and relaxation activities; and adequate recreational and leisure outlets. This system recognizes that there are a variety of reasons why people relapse back into old unhealthy ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. This system encourages people to recognize when they are in relapse and to escape from it as soon as possible. The goal is to lessen the number of relapse events by learning, from the current relapse, why it occurred. Once the reasons for relapse are identified then action can be taken to make it possible to extend the time before the next relapse and to lessen the intensity of such an occurrence. People can protect themselves from relapse by having a better understanding why it occurs. They then need to seek support from their social support network. They give their supporters permission to call them on it when they see them building up for a relapse. Parents who utilize the Pathfinder system must recognize that they need to be vigilant for the signs of an impending relapse into their old unhealthy patterns of parenting. Parents need to use the RELAPSE system with their support system so that they can receive warning that they are reverting to old controlling behaviors with their children.

PATHFINDER then incorporates all of the six SEA's systems of recovery in order to assist parents to have healthier family lives and to encourage the development of personal responsibility taking, rational thinking, productive problem solving, self-confidence, self-acceptance, and healthy self-esteem in their children. To accomplish this goal, parents need to spend more time in working on themselves to awaken a healthier sense of self and healthy perspective on life. Parents who make their own personal recovery from low self-esteem their top priority will benefit from the PATHFINDER system. Parents on the other hand who only try to implement these principles without personal recovery work will be saddened to find out they cannot do one without the other.

In order to help you decide if you are receptive to the PATHFINDER system, take the following inventory of Pathfinder Beliefs and rate yourself as to how willingly you accept and incorporate them in your life with your children.

G. PATHFINDER Beliefs Inventory

Directions: Read each belief and then rate how you react to it. Put your rating on the line before each belief. Use the following rating scale:

  • 1 = I would never accept or state this as my belief

  • 2 = I would rarely accept or state this as my belief

  • 3 = I sometimes accept or state this as my belief

  • 4 = I frequently accept and state this as my belief

  • 5 = I almost always accept and state this as my belief



_____ 1. I do not need my children to like or love me in order for me to feel good about myself.

_____ 2. I love myself enough to keep a healthy emotional boundary between my children and me so that I can be objective and detached when I set limits for them.

_____ 3. I would never place my children in a position in which I would not be willing to be placed myself.

_____ 4. I believe that children should be given freedom to make choices in their lives as long as I have set the limits for these choices to be made.

_____ 5. I believe that children need to be held responsible for all of their own actions. It is my task to point out for them what the consequences will be if they choose such actions.

_____ 6. It is healthy for children to have unique personalities which may clash with the tastes, interests and pursuits of their parents.

_____ 7. It is ok if my children do not become what I have always hoped they would become.

_____ 8. Children do not have an obligation to think, feel, and act like they do.

_____ 9. Free and open expression of physical and verbal affection is necessary for children to have healthy self-esteem.

______10. It is healthy for children to spend time on their own interests, activities and hobbies away from their parents.

_____11. Parents are the leaders in a family and they have to set the tone in the household by how they interact with the other family members.

_____12. Children need to have some freedom of choice within the limits set for them by their parents. This means that they are given guidelines for desired behaviors without rigid monitoring or supervision to insure that they are in compliance with the guidelines.

_____13. If my children appear to be floundering in life because they do not have the ability to solve their problems, then it is my responsibility to provide guidance by pointing out a variety of alternative solutions so that they can choose for themselves what to do.

_____14. When my children make choices which I know are bad for them, all I can do is to point out the potential consequences for these choices and leave them free to decide what they want to do about it.

_____15. In matters of pre-marital sex, alcohol or drug use, and other socially offensive behaviors all I can do is to fully inform my children about the negative consequences of these behaviors, but I cannot force them to choose what I want them to.

_____16. It is important that other adults in my children's lives give my children the same choices and freedom to be who they are without coercing them to be something which they do not want to be.

_____17. It is my responsibility to be an advocate for my children with school, church, clubs, sports teams, and other community activities in which they are involved to promote their self-esteem development in the Pathfinder model.

_____18. It is important for me to help others in my children's lives to understand that they are free to point out to my children the natural and logical consequences for their actions in the settings in which these adults have authority and responsibility for my children.

_____19. I do not have to fight for my children with the authorities in their lives if the officials have operated in a logical and rational way with them. This may mean that my children may experience some grave negative consequence for some inappropriate choices they have made.

_____20. I do not have to accept the negative consequences for my children's freely chosen behaviors since I did not perform their all chosen behavior.

_____21. Seeing my children suffering the negative consequences for their own actions can be painful, but I refuse to intervene if it is the right thing for them.

_____22. I believe that children should be given the freedom to experience failure in their lives.

_____23. Children learn from the mistakes they make. I cannot protect my children from the mistakes they make if I want them to grow up strong, self-reliant, and self-confident.

_____24. It is good for children to take out their anger in healthy ways. I encourage my children to do so as often as I see their anger rising.

_____25. I choose not to feel offended, hurt or pained when my children in their negative response to a directive of mine try to manipulate through guilt, non-acceptance, or rejection of me.

_____26. I choose not to hold onto guilt or shame for bad mistakes in judgment I made in my previous handling of my children.

_____27. I recognize that it is unhealthy to hold too tightly to an image, dream, or fantasy of how I want my children to be, because I cannot control things so that it can become a reality.

_____28. As long as I accept myself for who I am, it makes no difference what others say about how I am raising my children.

_____29. It is healthy for my children to recognize that I am a human being with weaknesses and frailty. I make a point to admit my shortcomings to them.

_____30. My physical and mental health is the number one priority in my life.

_____31. My marriage or relationship with my significant other is the second most important priority in my life.

_____32. My children are the next most important priority in my life after me and my marriage.

_____33. Parenting is fun as long as I keep a healthy perspective and let go of the need to control everything in my children's lives.

_____34. It is important to listen to my children's feelings as well as I can and equally important, I need to share my feelings with my children.

_____35. I accept responsibility for not being a perfect parent. I also accept that in the past, I had done the best that I could do at the time, for my children, knowing what I did at the time.

_____36. I am a human being and as such will make mistakes. It is ok to admit to my children when I have made them.

_____37. There is nothing about me, my family or our life together that I feel that my children need to keep secret from others.

_____38. I choose not to burden my children with my problems, concerns and worries in order to get them to comply with my requests for them to take care of me.

_____39. I feel no shame or guilt for letting go of the outcomes in my children's lives.

_____40. My Higher Power provides me strength to let go of the control over my children by allowing me to hand my children's outcomes over to this Power. I am ready to accept whatever will be the outcome.

_____Total Score

Scoring of PATHFINDER Beliefs Inventory

Directions: Add up all of the rating and place the total on the Total Score line.

Interpretations of Scores on the Pathfinder Beliefs Inventory

Score Rating Interpretation

  • 40-60 Very Poor You will have a difficult time accepting the Pathfinder model unless you first commit yourself to working on your own low self- esteem.

  • 61-80 Poor You could be open to the Pathfinder model if you work at improving your own self-esteem.

  • 81-120 Fair There is a better chance for you to be able to be a Pathfinder as long as you continue to work on yourself.

  • 121-160 Good You are on your way to becoming a Pathfinder with your children. You still have to work harder on Letting Go and accepting that you are powerless over the outcomes for your children. You probably need to do more anger and grief work over this reality.

  • 161-200 Excellent You have made it to the ranks of the Pathfinders but do not become complacent since relapse is always a possibility. It is always wise to have in your support network other parents who are committed to the Pathfinder system of parenting.


H. Journal Exercise:

Directions: In your personal journal, respond to the following questions about the Pathfinder System:

1. What obstacles stand in the way of your freely accepting the Pathfinder system in your life?

2. How many of the 40 beliefs do you have a problem accepting and what is blocking your acceptance of them?

3. How is the current state of your self-esteem? What do you need further work on, in order for your self-esteem to become healthier?

4. Which of the six systems from the SEA's Program do you need to work more on so that they become a way of life for you? Why do you need to do more work on these systems?

5. How comfortable are you with the need to stay rational and reality based when dealing with your beliefs about parenting? What resistance do you feel to being open to this model?

6. How do you feel your children will react to your implementing the Pathfinder system?

7. How do you feel your partner in raising the children will feel about implementing the Pathfinder system?

8. What beliefs you currently hold about parenting and having children are being challenged by the Pathfinder system?

9. What are the benefits for you and your children to be gained by adopting the Pathfinder system?

10. What emotions or feelings are you experiencing as you proceed in this book? Where do you feel these are coming from? What do you think you need in order to change these feelings if they are negative? If they are positive, how can you explain your positive response?

Credits: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

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