During Sunday afternoon’s thunder storm, I sat on our front porch reading. As I sat, I remembered thunder storms as a kid and heading out to our front porch, even at night. Sometimes our neighbours would sit out front too, and we would catch up. I remember our next door neighbor once tossing over snacks to us – their snacks were always better than ours. Sometimes it would just be us kids with my parents. When I think of my sweetest memories as a child, time on our front porch is up there, particularly during thunder storms.
But if I had to think of my “sweetest” childhood memory, it wouldn’t involve my parents. The first one that came to mind was riding on the back of a motorcycle when I was 16 on an exchange in Switzerland; another was swimming across a lake, knowing there were snapping turtles; another was at camp using a magnifying glass and the sun to burn my initials in a piece of wood.
These memories mean that I am part of the 80% of adults who say that their parents weren’t part of their “sweetest” childhood memory, according to Michael Thompson, in his newest book, Homesick and Happy. How time away from parents can help a child grow. Thompson has asked thousands of parents about “the sweetest memory of childhood” and the same four or five elements are always present: away from adult supervision, out-of-doors, with friends, facing a challenge and doing something a bit risky.
In his book, he explores some of the big questions that parents ask: When and how do we learn to let go? Any why is it so important that we do? He believes that parents need to step aside, ask other adults to take over, and even to send children away in order to help them become “loving, productive, moral, and independent young adults.” He writes that when kids accomplish something separate from their parents, the kids own that accomplishment.
So I put down my book to write. When do we let our kids go? That one feels easy. Kevin and I believe in giving our kids independence, and maybe we can be criticized for letting them go too early. When our kids were nine years old, they flew alone to visit family friends. By alone I mean that we paid an extra $100 to have an Air Canada employee accompany them. But people thought we were crazy. This summer, at age 13, Jacob flew out to Calgary for the third time and we had the option to pay the extra 100 bucks, or not. (Apparently Air Canada thinks my child is an adult??!!) Those of you who know me, will know my decision: we opted not to pay.
The day before the flight, Jacob clued in to the fact that he would have to get from security to the gate alone. He got a bit teary, and I was honestly a bit surprised by his anxiety. After all, we have flown a lot, and I have made a point of putting the kids in charge of navigating the airport. As a bit of a throw-away comment, I said, “Jacob, I believe you can get to the gate on your own.” He quickly turned to face me – that clearly got his attention – and he said, “thank you.” It was as if that little comment was a turning point for him.
Joanne Kates wrote an article about homesick kids at camp in last week’s Globe and one of her tips was this:
“Project 100-per-cent confidence in your child’s ability to rise to this challenge. That helps him believe in his own ability to be on his own. Believing he can do it gets him halfway there.”
Kates’ tip worked for Jacob, and when I got a text from our friends that Jacob arrived safely, I thought of the fact that we let Jacob go so that he owned the accomplishment of travelling by himself.
Hopefully he feels this is a “sweet” memory and doesn’t feel the need to climb on a motorcycle any time soon… and when he does? I will be looking to Thompson and Kates for some “letting go” tips….