Getting Dragged Along

Kids don't just grow up one day. It's a gradual process. Along the way, though, one sometimes notices subtle shifts. I think I 'm feeling one this week.

We just got back from a camping trip. My plan had been to recreate the magical time I had as a child, camping with my dad. I remember being enthralled with the wilderness, and eager to prove that I could cut the mustard in the great outdoors.

My eight year old daughter, Molly, however, did not fit the role I cast for her. She likes to be outside, but she doesn't quite see the point of driving a long way and then hiking forever. The hiking part is especially abhorrent. Our house is under the redwoods and she can catch frogs in the nearby creek. Why walk for miles?

She complained all the way to the trailhead. I insisted that this was an important part of her education.

"It's only two miles to the lake," I enjoined her, trying to sound as chipper as Yuell Gibbons in the old Grape Nuts commercials. "It'll be fun!"

My partner, Amy, and I tossed on our day packs and headed down the trail. Molly refused to follow. Our packs were light compared to the heaviness we felt when we heard Molly, 150 feet behind us.

"I'm not coming."

"Then you can stay there and we'll see you when we get back." I had anticipated a protest and I was determined not to cater to it.

"You can't leave me here." She tried to call my bluff.

"Don't look back," I whispered to Amy. We walked on.

Half an hour later we stopped to look at the map. Molly had maintained her 150 foot distance behind us the whole way. I was tracking her whereabouts by the distant sound of her occasional whimpers. She was miserable, and it was difficult for Amy and I to enjoy the hike under these circumstances.

The map showed that in our haste to get started (and not indulge Molly) we had taken the wrong trail. We turned around and headed back. Molly felt quite vindicated by our mistake. It proved her point that hiking is useless. I wondered how I was going to convince her to join us on the correct trail once we got back to the trailhead.

"I am not hiking one more step," Molly announced with all the authority an eight year old can muster. Neither Amy nor I was up for another power struggle. We had succeeded in getting her to hike for an hour, but in winning that battle we had lost the war.

I will not plan another hike with Molly for a while, not until she evidences some interest of her own. It takes a lot of motivation to hike for miles on a hot day. I feel that motivation, because I relish the rewards I get from the experience. Molly, however, is different.

It wasn't always this way. Molly used to come with me wherever I went. She was happy to be along for the ride, happy just to be with her dad. As she grows older, however, her own preferences are becoming more clear. To spend time together, we have to work harder to find something we both want to do. I can't just drag her along.

It scares me to think of how different we may eventually become. When she is a teenager, will there be anything we both like to do? I guess if we are to stay close I am going to have to take up some of her interests. That will be a challenge. I have spent a lot of years getting clear on what I do and don't like to do. I do like Greg Brown. I don't like Brittney Spears. I do like working in the garden. I don't like painting my toenails. But maybe it will be good for me to keep an open mind.

© 2008, Tim Hartnett

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Your children need your presence more than your presents. - Jesse Jackson

Tim Hartnett, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Santa Cruz, CA. He specializes in Individual Counseling, Couples Therapy, and Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at 831.464.2922 or through his website:

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