Recently I read an article about the messages we send our kids. In it Jim Taylor, Ph.D, author of Your Children Are Listening, talked about the conflicting messages we give our children and also where they come from. Coincidentally, I recently had an experience that made me aware (once again) of the assumptions we make and these two issues collided in my brain.
Sometimes we send our children explicit messages on purpose, things like manners, behavior, etc. Sometimes we send messages by example. I had a great professor in grad school, Stephen Treat, who said they never hassled their kids about their homework. He and his wife both had graduate degrees and they both taught at schools.
“Education was in the air we breathed in our home.”
But there are all those times as parents when we send messages to our kids without realizing it and may not even mean to.
For the last several summers, my wife and I have sent our kids to crappy camps. We didn’t know they were going to be crappy camps, but that’s how they turned out, unfortunately. But this summer was going to be different, dammit! This summer we were going to splurge on a special camp for two weeks and give our kids a great camp experience.
Except that at least one of them every day has been utterly and completely miserable, crying as if we were dropping them off at Guantanamo Bay instead of a cool camp. Yet they still had a good time. How do I know? I asked them.
“What was the best camp you’ve been to?”
“This one,” they both told me.
“Is that because the others were so bad?”
“Yeah,” they replied in chorus.
Okay, not a ringing endorsement, but an improvement over the years past certainly.
Except for the misery and torture they seemed to experience.
And it made me wonder why we were trying to give them such a great camp experience? They weren’t begging us for a better camp experience. In fact, I’m not sure they cared about camp all that much. It is just the time between when school ends and when it begins again for them.
Then it hit me.
My kids love school–excuse me. My kids LOVE school. They love learning. They love their teachers. They love their friends. They love the whole experience. Camp is an interruption for them.
I was the opposite. I hated school growing up. I looked forward to camp during the whole school year. Camp was the only place I felt special, felt confident, felt I was close to the real me. Nine months of feeling pretty terrible and two great months. I never wanted camp to end.
I wanted them to have the same kind of camp experience I did and I think they felt pressure to be happy there when in reality, they didn’t want to be at camp; they wanted school. I inadvertently imposed my own issues on them and maybe made things a bit harder for them. I think there were a lot of things about this camp that was tough for them to deal with (would’ve been tough for me to deal with, frankly), but maybe my assumption about how important camp is made things more difficult for them.
We’re always sending messages to our kids. Some are very obvious. Some are good. Some are not on both counts. I didn’t want to send a message that having fun at camp was important. It was supposed to be fun! (Ironically, I intentionally decided not to send them to a sports camp because that’s what I went to and knew that wasn’t for them.)
The truth is, I would much rather them LOVE school and be happy for 9 months out of the year than what I went through. It would be nice if we could help them enjoy summer a little better, but in the meantime, I’ll be a bit more aware of what message I send them about camp.
What inadvertent messages have you sent your kids?