In Chapter 1 of Homesick and Happy, Dr. Thompson addresses three big questions that are central to parenting.
1. Why is important for our children to be away from us?
2. When and how do we let go? And why is it so important that we do?
3. What should I be doing for my child?
This chapter is filled to the brim with so much good wisdom that it’s been hard to reduce it to just one post. I’ll do my best.
Around 20% of adults say that their parents were part of their sweetest memories; approximately 80% say that their parents weren’t there.
This chapter does a great job of first and foremost letting us parents off the hook. We take on so much responsibility with raising our kids. We make sure they’re well fed, well clothed, hang out with the right friends, get a good education, and on and on and on goes our list of responsibility. Isn’t it nice to know that there are a handful of things we just can do for our kids?
Have you ever thought about sending your child to sleepaway camp? Have you considered that your child needs to be away from you to take this particular developmental leap?
Dr. Thompson reminds us that we cannot do any of the following:
Whoo…this is quite a list. Do you feel a bit of relief yet? Isn’t it kind of funny how subconsciously we actually think we can do all, or most all, of these things? Let’s take a closer look at some of these ideas, and just how that plays into parenting, and specifically, into camp.
One big question I had is “if I can’t make my child happy, how then do they become happy, or maybe even better, how do they experience joy?” Maybe instead of using alliteration and naming the book Homesick and Happy Dr. Thompson could have named the book Homesick and Joyful. I make this point because happiness is ultimately a fleeting feeling, while joy is a lasting fulfillment despite our circumstances. So, back to the question about how our kids experience happiness, or better yet, joy. The answer might surprise you. I believe it has to do with suffering. Kids need to experience a little suffering and a little failure to, as Dr. Thompson puts it, “manage their own feelings” and “get the hang of experiencing the full range of feelings in life.” That’s where camp comes in. We do everything we can, summer after summer, to make your child’s camp experience better. But, part of camp for children is failing and taking safe risks. Sometimes campers fight. Sometimes campers don’t get along with a cabin mate. Sometimes campers get their feelings hurt by a friend. It’s through these experiences and things like reconciliation, with assistance from a counselor, that allow our children to grow.
Some experiences of failure and frustration are an essential part of a child’s emotional education.
Another key point made in this chapter is how at camp, children can be themselves. I’ve gotten this feedback a lot with Huawni campers. I ask them or their parents what sets Huawni apart, and many times I hear, “At Huawni, they feel the freedom to be who they are and not worry about what others think.” Putting your child in more situations where they have the freedom to be themselves is a key part of childhood development, and a gift that you can give.
Likewise, I love how Dr. Thompson encourages us parents to not make ourselves responsible for our child’s continual sense of self-confidence. Essentially, our child’s self-confidence is a by product of learning. The key to this is to give our children opportunities to be immersed in this type of environment (i.e. sleepaway camp). This can be hard, especially if it’s our child’s first time away from home. As Dr. Thompson urges, it’s key as parents that we see our child on the edge of mastering a challenge more versus being overwhelmed and unable to recover.
I believe that at many points in their children’s lives, parents need to step aside, ask other adults to take over and even send their children away in order to help their offspring become loving, productive, moral, and independent young adults.
So where does self-esteem come from? It really comes from mastering more challenging situations, maybe situations where your child has tasted defeat. This ultimately allows them to own their accomplishments. I’ve seen this countless times in the last two weeks. On day one of camp, a child can’t quite muster up the strength to jump on the Critter. On day three, they finally do it and conquer their fear. Maybe a child is anxious about swinging across the rope swing at OC, only to later meet the same challenge during Tribal Competition. At camp, children have countless opportunities to take safe risks, fail, and eventually conquer the challenge, even if it’s not unti their second or third summer at Camp.
Wonderful things can happen for children when they are away from their parents. I am deeply convinced that the presence of Mom and Dad does not always add value to a child’s every experience.
There is some interesting research that is coming out about learning, and Dr. Thompson mentions it when referencing the Partnership for 21st century skills. Essentially, this group did research to see which skills are needed for children to be successful in life post college. They found that of all the skills children need, teamwork, collaboration, creativity, responsibility, self-direction, and an ethical sense (I’d call this integrity) are essential. At camp, campers literally practice these everyday, especially collaboration, creativity, responsibility, and self-direction. Children are modeled integrity from and by their counselors. So, when you send your child to camp, you’re essentially giving your child the opportunity to develop these essential skills, summer after summer.
Dr. Thompson also argues that you cannot create a second family for which your child yearns to be with that will help facilitate his/her growth. I’d argue that yes, you can’t create it, but that it does exist. In the camp song, we sing “Camp Huawni, Camp Huawni, you are my second home.” How prophetic are the words that my father wrote so many years ago. Over the years, Camp Huawni has become a true second home for thousands of children. It’s a place where they are known and loved for who they are. It’s a place of consistency, something I’d argue is crucial for kids these days due to an ever-changing environment. Whether it be moving cities, a divorce in the family, or a changing home life, children need consistency.
Further, this chapter speaks on the ever growing challenge of technology. Can you believe that children spend, on average, 53 hours a week in front of a screen? I’m sure you probably can. Did you know that camp might be the only place where your child is away from a cell phone for two plus weeks? Unplugging our children from technology is becoming more and more necessary, and by sending them to camp these last few weeks, you’ve successfully done that.
A parent’s job is to raise children “who can leave you.”
Dr. Thompson’s final point is this— we cannot keep our child perfectly safe. This is a hard truth, especially for me and thinking about protecting our new born son. I experienced this for the first time when Barrett starting scratching his face. As you know, they make new born clothes that have hand protectors, which keep infants from scratching themselves. At one point, I thought, “You know, I can’t protect Barrett from everything, and he loves using his hands.” It was at that point that I came to grips with letting him scratch himself; I knew it was just part of his growing up and a small way for me to let go control. As Dr. Thompson says, “At some point, the effort to provide safety becomes a constant bath of parental anxiety, and too much parental attention starts to suffocate a child’s capacity for independence.”
I wish their parents could see them now, so they could see the remarkable growth in these children in just five days, and, I’m glad that their parents aren’t here. Because I believe that the developmental leaps these children have achieved in a week would not have taken place if their parents had been present.
So why is important for our children to be away from us? Answer: because it’s essential to our child’s growth.
And when and how do we let go? Answer: by giving our children experiences where they can take safe risks and, even sometimes, fail.
And what should I be doing for my child? Answer: There’s 8 things we can’t do, but all of which we can help with. Don’t over parent…set them up for success, part of which you’re already doing by sending them to camp!