I started listening to the Dr. Laura radio program a few decades ago while living in Los Angeles. Callers ask Dr. Laura Schlessinger questions, and she offers them blunt guidance and reprimands. Recently, I rediscovered her show on XM radio (Stars Channel 109). I especially enjoy listening to her when my fifteen-year-old is in the car with me and we can debrief after the calls. I often agree with Dr. Laura, but I disagreed with her advice to one caller I’ve named Field Trip Mom (FTM).
FTM expressed concerns about allowing her son to go on a school field trip to their state’s capital, which was three hours away. The reason FTM didn’t want him to go was that this would be the first time she would not be chaperoning one of his field trips. She had not signed up to be a chaperone fast enough and didn’t make the cut. Since FTM had been on every single field trip since her son started school, this would be her ten-year-old’s (insert gasp here) first field trip without her.
Dr. Laura focused on how the three-hour bus ride each way was just “too long to do in one day,” and she recommended that FTM not allow her son to go on the field trip. She recommended that FTM plan a family trip to the capital, stay overnight at a hotel, and see the sights as a family instead of allowing her son to go on the school field trip.
If had my own radio talk show and FTM had called me instead of Dr. Laura, I would have advised her differently. I would have said, “Let your son go! Let him have an adventure without you for once!” Since I don’t have a show and nobody asked my opinion, I just talked to myself about how sad this decision was for the field-trip-deprived ten-year-old. And then I decided to write this in case anyone reading is ever facing a similar decision or is feeling guilty for not chaperoning one of your child’s field trips.
This advice comes from personal experience. My son’s favorite and most memorable day of 5th grade (at age 10) was his all-day field trip to a choir festival and the beach. Yes, it was a three-hour drive each way on a bus. But it was a bus filled with his friends! My son described the bus ride as “the best part of the day,” and he still talks about how much fun he had talking, joking, singing, laughing, and taking huge group photos (on a device not connected to the internet, of course).
And, no, I was not there. Not even following the bus in my own car. Because, unlike FTM, I don’t think I need to be at every single event of my son’s life. In fact, I know there are some benefits to me not being there. Two benefits are the growth in his independence and the development of his confidence in being self-sufficient. Another benefit is a higher fun factor. I may be fun occasionally when I’m not
nagging asking and lecturing reminding about homework, showering, going to bed, dishes, laundry, and the timer going off for the end of electronic device use, but I know for sure that I am not as much fun as other ten-year-olds.
At a conference several years ago, Michael Thompson, Ph.D. led an exercise that I will never forget. He asked a room full of adults to close our eyes and think back to a favorite childhood memory. I thought of my childhood afternoons with my neighborhood friends exploring up and down the creek near our home searching for frogs. Then he told us to open our eyes and raise our hands if our parents were part of the memory. Very few hands in the huge hotel conference room went up. Thompson then eloquently stated, “Our best childhood memories do not involve adults.”
I hope my children will have many fond memories of our family’s time together, our trips and traditions. However, I also hope that they are acquiring fun childhood memories of adventures with their friends. I’ve missed a lot of my kids’ events over the years, often because two of them had conflicting events or I had a work commitment. I confess that I chaperoned many more field trips for my older kids than I have for my younger ones. I have a full life that involves my family, my work, and some activities that just keep me happy (meeting friends to work-out or have coffee, running, reading, and writing this blog, to name a few), so I guard my limited time closely. Most likely FTM (and Dr. Laura) would say that I’m not an involved-enough parent because these days I only rarely chaperone a school field trip. But I believe that our morning hugs, nightly family dinners, playing ping-pong in the garage, reading a good chapter book together, a nightly back rub and prayers, and attending all of their important events, is good-enough parenting.
I also know that a long bus ride is much more fun without me.
Want to read more?
Who’s Not Ready for College? (Sunshine Parenting)
How Independent do We Want our Kids to Be? (Sunshine Parenting)
Parking your Helicopter (Sunshine Parenting)
Are You an Overly Involved Parent? (aboutourkids.org)
Parental Involvement is Overrated (NY Times)
Over-involved parents handicap, not help, their kids (newstimes.com)
Parents: stop hovering over your college-bound kids (usnews.com)
When parents are too hands-on (SeattleTimes.com)
6 Things Overprotective Parents do wrong (time.com)
Free Range Kids (Lenore Skenazy’s blog: “Free-Range is not ‘free-wheeling.’ We believe in teaching our kids safety. We just also happen to believe that kids today are smarter and safer than society gives them credit for.”