This summer, I was forced to confront the reality that one of my kids didn't like summer camp. When I was young, I lived for going to camp every summer. I continued to work there as a college student and eventually worked there professionally after I was married and even when I had 3 kids. For a variety of reasons, I left my job there and moved on to other things, although it was a hard decision to make, and now each summer, I miss it and am jealous of all of my friends, and even my father, who still get to go.
I cannot imagine what a kid would not like about summer camp, so each summer, I continued to cajole and bribe my youngest to go. Don't you want to be with your siblings, I'd ask? I'll buy an ipod touch, I said. Everyone really wants to see you, I added. She went for a few summers, stayed home for one very long summer, and went back.
This summer, she went, but after two weeks we brought her home. It was very surreal to be on the other side of the phone call as a parent and hearing that camp just wasn't the right place for her to be right now. She was very unhappy and both my husband and I knew that we needed to bring her home.
Looking back now with a few months perspective, it was the best thing we could have done for her, and for all of us. It reminded me that no matter how we try to box our children in, they will break out eventually into their own people. We don't do it on purpose, we do what we think is right for them, what will help them grow. The experiences we trust are the ones that we ourselves had, pushing on them the successful ones and trying to help them avoid our own failures. As a mother, it is sometimes hard to separate ourselves from them, to remember they are individuals. Each year as they grow, the virtual umbilical cord becomes longer and longer while we, the parents, only really want to keep pulling them back. We know it's futile and we fight our impulse, but we aren't always successful.
The truth is that we just wanted to help her find her way, coming to the understanding that her way was not necessarily ours. In fact, it allowed her to come to terms with some things that will help her to move forward in her life.
I continue to learn from each of my children how to parent them as they develop into individuals and young adults. I enjoy watching them find their own voice. I also enjoy embarrassing them as only parents of teenagers can. That way, they know I haven't lost my individual voice along the way, and neither, I hope will they.