Our family adventures gave our kids the self reliance to go on their own adventures as they became adults. When our youngest, Jenny, graduated from High School she was 18 years old and my son, Ben was already in college and was 20. The two of them and one of Ben’s friends, who had been at our house on and off for years, came to us with a plan for an adventure of their own. They wanted to take a two week driving trip to Glacier National Park, Idaho, and back through Montana and Colorado. They borrowed our Tahoe and took the GPS and mapped their route, through the national Parks and federal campgrounds and all of the sites they wanted to see. Ben was studying geology and he knew specific areas he wanted to cover. They took the cooler and did mostly camping, but occasionally stayed at a hotel for showers and better beds. They made plans for the amount of money they needed and packed everything up and off they went. They stayed in contact, so we knew they were doing well and they posted pictures frequently on Face book and Instagram, of the gorgeous campsites, mountains and streams they were seeing. They actually planned ahead and took organic shampoo and they cooked over the campfire. As parents it was a little scary, but we knew they had the skills to handle the adventure and we were proud that they had the self confidence and drive to plan and go on this adventure. Everything went well and they returned with great stories and we could tell that they had bonded and seemed even closer than before they had shared this special adventure. After they had returned, I happened to be at a neighbor’s garage sale. She had a son Jenny’s age. He was at the sale hanging out with some other friends. He asked how Jenny was doing and I said that she had just gotten back from their adventurous driving vacation out west with her brother and his friend. He was really animated and excited and said that he had seen Jenny and Ben’s pictures on Instagram and mentioned one particular one with their orange tent in the foreground and the mountains in the back. I told him they had come back with some great stories about how they had gotten lost at one time, but Jenny then found their way out of that situation by navigating, and how they had met one guy in the campground who had taught them to bake bread in a Dutch oven over a campfire. The young guy’s mother was overhearing our conversation and asked me with a look of disbelief. She said, “They went by themselves?” I told her “yes,” and repeated the details, “my son who is 20, his friend who is also 20 and Jenny who was 18.” She repeated in disbelief again, “but by themselves? I said “yes.” “With no adults?” she said. I said “No, they are all adults. Jenny is 18 and the other two are 20.” She looked at me and said insistently and in a firm tone with her forehead furrowed, “No I mean real adults.” I responded, a little confused and in a slow way, “They are real adults. “ She walked away shaking her head. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t tell this story tocriticize her as a Mom. God knows raising kids is not an easy job, we all make mistakes and there is no perfect way. But what struck me is that we try so hard to protect our children sometimes that we lose track of the reality of their age. In fact her son was also 18 and even though she felt he was not a “real” enough adult to be trusted to go on a road trip to some National Parks in the western United States, in fact he was adult enough to walk to a local recruiting office, join the military and be surviving in the deserts of the middle east and, all of that could be done without her permission. The one thing I have learned in hindsight is that our kids at every age would always live up to our expectations. When we showed confidence in their abilities, they had confidence in their own abilities and could be successful. We taught them early on that mistakes were OK and trying new things was essential, for a fun and full life.
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