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Get to know your child on one-on-one vacation

"Come on, Mom! You can make it."

Barbara Reisman, aching from the heavy pack on her back and the steep, dusty climb from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, wearily looked up the trail at her 15-year-old daughter. Not only was Leah Scherzer confidently setting the pace for the duo, she was carrying the heavier pack.

"That moment was a real turning point in our relationship," said Reisman, who lives in New Jersey and is executive director of the New York-based Child Care Action Campaign, a national lobbying organization. "I realized how grown-up, how strong and independent she was," Reisman said, acknowledging her daughter was the more experienced backpacker.

The five-day hiking trip was all the more special, mother and daughter agree, because just the two of them shared it. The two men in the family, Reisman's husband and 14-year-old son, spent the week at home together last spring vacation while the two women fulfilled a vow they'd made three years earlier on a family trip to the Grand Canyon.

They had met a mother and daughter on their way back from camping at the bottom of the canyon. Recalled Reisman, "We promised each other then we would do it too someday."

Many fortysomething parents, it seems, are grabbing a chance to share a special adventure with a son or daughter. They're biking in British Columbia, driving cattle with Western cowboys or sailing in Maine.

New York executive Ned Scharff, for one, invited his teenage son rafting in hopes of getting closer to him; Maine attorney Roger Katz took his son on a rigorous back-roads bike trip from Banff to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies as a bar mitzvah present.

"I would have been hard pressed to convince my wife and daughter to go biking and camping for five days," said Katz, who plans to take his daughter on a trip of her choice when she's 13. "We had to work together in ways we don't at home, putting up the tent every night, taking it down in the cold mornings," he continued. "We got to know each other's strengths and weaknesses a lot better."

Scharff added that he gleaned new insights about his son watching him interact with other teens on the river trip. "I came away with a new understanding of where he is socially and emotionally. It was very reassuring," he said.

"Don't ask if you can afford to do this," offered Scharff. "Just do it. It's an investment in your relationship."

These one-parent-one-child trips don't have to be only rugged adventures. My husband and baseball-crazed 12-year-old son, for example, headed to spring training in Florida last year. Another mother I know and her son explored the neighborhoods and shops of San Francisco.

Sometimes the other parent takes the rest of the family on a different trip. In other cases, though, the non-traveling parent simply must stay home and work. The one-child trip often is arranged to coincide with another child's scheduled time at camp or visiting relatives.

"Parents are so darn busy these days they can't always get away together," explains Dave Wiggins, whose Colorado-based company, American Wilderness Adventures, has been booking more of these kinds of trips.

Certainly it's easier on parents to focus on only one child without siblings along to compete not only for their parents' attention but for their interests to come first.

"I found my boys were much more agreeable to trying new things," said UCLA psychologist Jill Waterman, who has taken trips separately with her 12-year-old twin sons.

It's cheaper, of course, to travel as a couple rather than a family. Such trips also can provide an opportunity for the pair to forge a bond based on a shared interest or a goal they've achieved, such as making it down the Grand Canyon or biking 100 miles.

The trade-off, notes Waterman, is that already time-crunched families will have less vacation time together and a depleted vacation budget for the rest of the year. She adds that it's important to make sure that the child who isn't going on this trip has plans for something he wants to do and is assured that he'll get his chance later.

Barbara Reisman's son Jared, for example, not only got to spend a week alone with his dad, but already is thinking about what adventure he'll share with his mom.

Just don't plan such "bonding" adventures as a substitute for a bona fide family vacation, urges Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, who has done considerable research on the impact of adventure in our lives. Such trips can be tremendously important for families as a vehicle to forge new bonds based on shared experience and positive memories, he explains.

Explains Farley, "Kids really value parents when they show some adventurous qualities and are willing to try new things."

Leah Scherzer couldn't agree more. She figures her mom could handle the Appalachian Trail now _ as long as she's there to lead the way.

Send your questions and comments about family travel to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053 or e-mail to eogintzaol.com.

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