Adventure for child and parent Bonding: A trip for two, whether it's hiking in the wilderness or shopping downtown, can help reinforce or improve a relationship.

Taking the Kids

September 29, 1996|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

"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 two, but 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 Child Care Action Campaign, a national lobbying organization based in New York. "I realized how grown-up, how strong and independent she was," Reisman said, acknowledging her daughter was the more experienced backpacker.

"When I got to the top, I didn't see myself as a kid," agreed Leah, a high school junior.

The five-day hiking trip was all the better, 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."

"We never went away for five days together before," added Leah, acknowledging she wouldn't have had so much fun if her younger brother had been along. "It was wonderful to be the only kid."

Many fortysomething parents, it seems, are grabbing a chance to share an adventure with a son or daughter. They're biking in British Columbia, driving cattle with Western cowboys or sailing in Maine, leaving the rest of the family behind.

New York executive Ned Scharff invited his teen-age son rafting in hopes of getting closer to him.

Scharff said that he gleaned 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.

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."

These one-parent, one-child trips don't have to be 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.

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

Wiggins has experienced the trend firsthand: He tended the business while his wife took their sons to a family reunion. Two years ago, she stayed behind with their preschooler while he took his then-8-year-old son on a wagon-train trip.

"It was a great time, except we found out Jake was allergic to horses," he said.

Certainly it's easier on parents to focus on only one child without siblings along to compete.

"I found my boys were much more agreeable to trying new things," said Jill Waterman, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles who has taken trips separately with her 12-year-old twin sons.

It's cheaper, of course, to travel as a pair rather than a family.

Such trips also can provide an opportunity for the two to forge a bond based on a shared interest or a goal they've achieved, such as making it down the Grand Canyon and back up 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.

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.

Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, who has researched the impact of adventure on our lives, says "bonding" trips might even get the kids to change their opinion about you. "Kids really value parents when they show some adventurous qualities and are willing to try new things," he said.

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.

Pub Date: 9/29/96

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