We talk a lot about the days of the week in our house. Our three-year-old is currently working on remembering them and the order in which they arrive, so I started this morning’s breakfast conversation by asking him “What day is it today?”. I was hoping he might remember that Wednesday came after Tuesday, but instead he shouted proudly, ‘It’s Matthew Day!’.
For a bit of context, our boys go to a daycare for part of the week and Wednesday is the day our son’s “best friend” Matthew (named changed) is also there. I was a little confused when he first started talking about how much he loved playing with Matthew. After all, Catherine and I have several good friends with kids whose ages match up well with our boys. They seem to really enjoy their (Covid-safe) play dates. I’ve never met Matthew (except for once or twice at drop off). What’s so great about him anyway?
Re-reading Michael Thompson’s insightful Homesick and Happy recently has reminded me exactly what’s so great about Matthew, and in a larger sense, how important time away from Catherine and me is to our boys’ growth and development. Matthew is so great because our son chose him as a friend. Thompson, a clinical psychologist, writes, “Everything about friendship and group membership has to be experienced. And what are the very best friendships of all? I would argue that they are the ones you truly make on your own…’Mom, I made a new friend’ has to be one of the signature shouts of a child’s independence because his mother doesn’t yet know anything about the other child”. In fact, Thompson writes there are eight fundamental things that we as parents want to do for or give to our children, but cannot.
- Make our children happy
- Give our children high self-esteem
- Make friends for our children or micromanage their friendships
- Successfully double as our child’s agent or manager
- Create a ‘second family’ that our children yearn for to help facilitate growth
- Compete with our child’s electronic world
- Keep our children perfectly safe (although we can drive them crazy trying!)
- Make our children independent
I say this sheepishly, because after all, I’m a camp director, and I get to witness the exponential growth of our campers each summer. Our staff sees campers taking huge steps forward in their development precisely because their parents aren’t there to watch, supervise or manage those all-important growth experiences. And yet, in a world that seems scarier than ever, I struggle to do this with my own boys. It’s why being intentional about creating opportunities for our kids to have adventures, try new things, to take appropriate risks and even to fail, away from us is so important. It’s why we need camp more than ever.
p.s I would recommend Michael Thompson’s Homesick and Happy to camp parents and non-camp parents alike. If you’re interested, you can find it here.