The Assumptions We Make As Parents Can Cause Their Own Issues

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?

Los Tres Amigos Veterans Day

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

Another Los Tres Amigos Sabado (Saturday), another happy day! After my delightful evening Friday night, I woke up bright and early to get the Okapis dressed and out the door to iHop for breakfast. They behaved very well and we had another nice time.

As this is the second time we’ve really gotten to listen to Shabbat music together, they really seem to be enjoying it. They are beginning to have their favorite songs (Dorit’s favorite is my favorite and Lucas’ is a song that has both Hebrew and Spanish in it). It was all we listened to during our travels and it was very enjoyable and felt so good that they are beginning to really connect with it.

After iHop I had a surprise in store for them. We spent a lot of weekends at the beach this summer, but obviously haven’t been back. Since it was such a lovely day, I was thinking we would go down to the beach, see the ocean and the sand again, and take a little walk along the boardwalk. They were very excited to see the sand and ocean again and even knew about the boardwalk (which I didn’t think they did). At one point, we were walking along the boardwalk, hand-in-hand, and I just thought this was the life. Enjoying the sun, the ocean, holding my Okapis’ hands. To me, that’s a pretty damn good weekend.

After the beach we went to the library, which I didn’t know was closed (it was Veterans Day). Bummer. But we recovered quickly and went to the playground where they had a ceremony for Veterans. It was pretty short and I brought the Okapis over to it near the end. I explained to them about the flags, showed them the eagles on the flag poles, and pointed out soldiers, people who had fought in a war.

“You know who else fought in a war?”

“Who?” they asked.

“Uncle H. Uncle H is a veteran. This is his day.”

There we were, in a tiny little playground in the middle of Long Island and they were having a small ceremony, talking about the sacrifices they made, the honor and respect they paid to this country, to its people and to the flag. They talked about those who didn’t come home to their families and I sat holding my Okapis, hoping they never have to experience anything like that in their lifetime – though I know it is inevitable. They didn’t understand the seriousness of the ceremony, but they understood something was going on and they were very quiet and well-behaved. Fortunately, we got to see the flag bearers walk right by us with their flags held high and I think they really enjoyed being so close to these huge flags.

Afterwards, we went to the playground and played for almost an hour. It is always a challenge to have both of them at the playground, trying to keep one eye on each of them without going cross-eyed. At one point, Dorit ran off and I couldn’t see her. I looked all around but to no avail. For a brief moment it was terrifying and I had to yell out her name. Lucas didn’t see her either and I was beginning to feel panic. But then I spotted her out of the corner of my eye. She and I had a little chat on a bench about staying where she could see Mommy or Daddy. Eeessh.

All in all, however, another incredibly enjoyable Los Tres Amigos Sabado.

Off On His Own

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

I mentioned that Dorit has been sick, so sick that we didn’t want her to go to school yesterday. This was something we didn’t really have to deal with over the summer when they were at camp. I don’t think they got sick over the summer so they didn’t really miss camp unless they were doing something else. But if Dorit couldn’t go to school and Lucas was healthy enough to go, what should we do?

When it comes to separation issues, Lucas has got it much worse. Whether he is having trouble going to sleep at night or me leaving in the morning when he was younger or when we would go out and leave the Okapis with their grandparents or going to camp for the first time, he would often end up in hysterical tears. We’ve worked very hard with him on this and since camp we’ve really begun to see some wonderful progress.

Even though there was a few week break after camp, Lucas (and Dorit) handled going to school for the first time extraordinarily well. We were both so proud of him and how well he was adjusting to this new life of spending more time away from both of his parents – especially his mother.

Recently, we have enrolled the Okapis in new classes. They are taking the next level Spanish class, which they take together, but without Gem, for an hour. Even more incredible, Dorit is taking ballet classes (she LOVES ballet and it is incredibly adorable) all by herself. We had trouble finding a class Lucas wanted (he wanted soccer, but the timing was really bad. He also wants a music class but we’re afraid he is too young and don’t want him to get too frustrated too early) so we enrolled him in a “For Boys Only” class that focuses on athletics and gymnastics, on building coordination and connection with his body – but only boys are in the class (of course, the class is taught by a woman which made me so angry, but I digress as usual). He was really nervous and anxious, but went into the class and did so well – without mommy or Dorit. As (another) aside, the nice part of these classes is that not only does it help our Okapis develop some activities and relationships separate from each other, but it also allows Gem individual time with each of them while the other is in class, which is even more special now that they see her less because of school.

But taking a class by himself, while a big step, is very different than going to school by himself for four hours while mommy and Dorit are not around. Monday morning, however, that is exactly what he did. Lucas went to school and stayed there without Dorit for the entire time! Gem said he was nervous and at one point didn’t want to go, but he did it and I could not be prouder of him. THAT is a huge step and I am so happy for him.

When Gem went to pick him up from school, the teachers told her he was incredibly good (the entire class – about 12 kids in total – made Dorit a big get well card that they all “signed” – how adorable is that???) and he didn’t get upset at all.

She also told Gem that towards the end of the school day he said, “I miss Dorit.”

Of course he did. I’m sure she missed him, too. But he made it through the day on his own, by himself. Awesome.

Man, that boy tugs at my heart strings so.

Beach Bonding

By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT

When I was kid some of my most favorite things to do were to go to the beach. My family would go every summer for two weeks – until we bought a house and then we stopped going at all (see, to pay for the house we had to rent it out to strangers so we couldn’t use it during the summer, if that gives you any insight into my family growing up).

I don’t remember an enormous amount from my childhood, but I remember many things from going to the beach. Riding my bike in the early morning to pick up a New York Times for my grandfather so he could read it at breakfast. I remember meeting a kid there, don’t remember his name, but we became fast friends. We would build these complicated houses made out of cards. He was also one of the first people I remember boogie boarding with (before they were called boogie boards, but I’m not old….no, no, no). I would spend hours every day out in the ocean, riding waves. A good day at the beach was one where I spent most of my time on the ocean and the time I wasn’t on the ocean, digging a hole (“Did you reach China, yet?” people would always ask me) in the sand. I don’t mean a little hole, I mean a hole where I could stand in and be completely unseen by the outside world because I was so deep, where the sound of the ocean became muted and soft). I would make myself a little bench out of the sand and hang out there when I wasn’t on the water.

I can remember the thrill of catching a wave and riding it all the way to the shore, then picking up my board, tucking it under my arm (awkwardly because it was bigger than I was) and heading back out beaming with pride, hoping people were noticing how cool I was (though there just was no way I was cool). I can remember surviving some of the nastiest spills, the swirling under water, not being able to breathe, not sure which way was up. Once I even came out of the water after a particularly impactful crash where I smashed straight into the ground from the force of the wave. My head hurt, but I was so proud of myself that I survived, and I was walking out of the water for a little break when my mother asked me if I was okay. Even though I went with my family, I have no real memories of them. None of my dad at the beach (did he really go with us? Did he just sleep?) and the only ones of my mother were her at the beach, reading. Rarely did they notice anything I did there and everything I learned to do at the beach, I learned by myself and did with myself or with my sister. When I told her my head hurt, she said my mouth was bleeding. I checked my mouth and realized the impact into the ground had knocked out one of my teeth. I thought that was awesome.

The beach has always been a special place for me. After several semesters at college, before the summer started and strangers took over our beach house, I would go down and spend about a week by myself. No phone, no TV. Just me, myself and I, some books and the beach. I would watch the sunset every night and play all day – even moved the couch outside once to sleep on the deck. I learned an incredible amount about myself during those periods. Looking back, I can’t imagine it is possible to be that relaxed.

This weekend was the first weekend of the summer where we got to take our Okapis to the beach (they’ve gone a couple of times, but without me). I bought them boogie boards and started teaching them about it (started off very small – just sitting on it where the waves hit the beach and feeling it move underneath them). Dorit seemed to like it, but the waves were very strong and it scared them both a little. But they love the beach, the sand, the water too much and as they get older, I think we’ll have a lot of incredible moments together at the beach. I really enjoyed watching Dorit’s face when she realized the board was moving under her and she was moving with it. She will enjoy the rush from the movement, the speed of riding a wave just like I did. I can’t wait to ride with them (assuming I even remember how to do it *sigh*), the three of us, floating in the vast ocean, Gem just a dot on the shore, studying the waves to see which one is the best to catch and riding it all the way in while Gem watches and claps for our little Okapis (who probably won’t be so little).

Sometimes, there are moments in being a parent that completes the circle of life. Teaching my children about boogie boarding, playing with them in the sand, envisioning how it will only get better, I am reminded of what I never had growing up. But more importantly, I am bursting with the sensation that this is what family is all about. Maybe I never had it, but Gem and I are creating it for our Okapis and their special memories of the beach won’t be tinged with sadness the way mine are. Their memories will be clearer, more robust, full of the fun, the excitement, the thrill and, probably most important, the connection to their Daddy.

Yeah, we had a lovely weekend. The beginning of a lovely summer, I think.