[twitter]“Pay close attention to the combative toddler years,” parenting experts advise. Those years offer a sign of things to come when they turn into hormone-raging teens. Toddlers are learning to do things for themselves, just as teens are testing boundaries of their independence. It’s a struggle for control that can be handled more easily when you and your kids are on the same team. For toddlers, that means getting down to their level and speaking their language; convincing teens you’re in it together takes a more creative approach.
When my friend Steve’s kids were eight and five, he and his wife made a promise to them. “When you turn 13, you can have a trip with your dad anywhere you want,” they said. “The key is it has to be something you’re passionate about.” The idea was to develop a strong bond between father and son, something that Steve and his wife had fostered through their numerous travels.
“We start to lose influence as parents as the kids hit their teen years, and we felt strengthening that bond was important,” says Steve.
He involved both boys in every aspect of the trip, from researching locations and attractions to picking hotels and flights. The trips also shed light on how different from each other his boys had become. One son was interested in media and movies, so he chose a trip to Dreamworks, including TV tapings at Universal Studios. The other boy was a sports fiend, and he chased his favorite team through stops in Phoenix and LA.
A number of years ago on a trip of my own, I met Bernard (above), a retired Belgian school teacher who had taken a similar approach with his sons. He let them pick a spot anywhere in the world to go for a week with him when they graduated from high school. For Bernard, the trip was less a pre-emptive effort at team building than a last chance at quality time with a son before he left the nest.
Barry MacDonald, an author of several parenting books who runs a website called mentoringboys.com, encourages parents to become connected with their sons. “When boys come from families where they are nurtured and their needs are met they develop healthy attachments,” he writes. “No amount of appropriate bonding, attachment, or nurturance from a mother or father is harmful or leads boys to become weaklings or sissies. Boys do not need to be rushed into independence.”
Still, you need to be careful not to smother them. Involving the kids in planning the trip is a way to reach out and strengthen the father/son bond away from the nest while remaining under the wing of a watchful parent. You end up nurturing a responsible independence while reinforcing the bonds within your family.
Steve’s pleased with the outcome of the adventures he took with his boys.