I’m not a perfect parent, none of us are. Nothing that I ever write is intended to come across as condescending. I am often reminded of my son Max’s first summer experience at Camp Takajo at the age of seven. We were standing in the dining room at dinner time when our eyes locked, and he immediately burst into tears. Everything I preach and believe in, in my heart, was thrown out the window as I dropped to one knee and signaled for him to come over to me. I was proud of him for living in a bunk, away from the creature comforts and security of home. But, for that moment I thought perhaps I misjudged, this was too much for him, and that he had had enough.
Fortunately, one of Max’s counselors witnessed this moment and diverted Max from his father’s loving arms and back to his table where he chowed down on a hamburger and got distracted by his friends and his favorite brownie desert. In an instant, I could have made the emotional decision that may have subliminally told my son he couldn’t hack it. Max was tired and hungry. My own need to problem solve and spare my son of any upset or pain could have prevented him from learning to cope with age-appropriate and very normal sadness.
When Max turned fifteen, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. When we received the news, I wanted to make a pact with God to spare him this illness and give it to me, but I couldn’t. Like you, I would’ve given anything to protect my child from this situation, but I couldn’t. Max continues to battle every day of his life, and I often wonder if his struggle would be worse had he not learned self-reliance at an early age.
Every day I speak with parents who try to protect their children from any upset, and I often wonder whether their love and over-protectiveness are really doing a service for their child. I know that those of you who send your children to Takajo trust me, and I am forever grateful for that enormous responsibility that you bestow upon me. Camp is not perfect, it is a microcosm of the real world where we are faced with daily struggles that we need to overcome.
Camp is the perfect environment to teach your child the critical life skills that he will need to navigate through this turbulent world. Allow your child to struggle, teach him to use his words, and to self-advocate. Let him grow from a disappointment or defeat. If you do this, the experience that you are providing to your child today will pay dividends in his future.