My wife and I have one child, a 14-year-old middle-schooler. We have taken many family vacations together and spend a great deal of quality time, as a family and with one another.
When February school vacation rolled around this year, I suggested that my son and I take a boys’ trip, just he and I. We all agreed, and Manhattan was his choice of venue.
We took the train from North Station to Penn Station and stayed in K-Town at the Martinique Hotel. In my opinion, the ubiquitous scaffolding erected all around Manhattan, some of which was assembled at our hotel entrance, only adds charm to the gritty-city experience. Under the scaffolding was the entrance to a nicely appointed lobby of this historic hotel built between 1897 and 1911, in the French Renaissance style.
We averaged walking a little over seven miles each day of our three-day stay. We took in the Empire State Building, Times Square, Grand Central Station, New York Public Library, Intrepid Museum, Liberty Island, Rockefeller Center, and the observatory at the top of Rockefeller Plaza, fueling our exertions on a steady diet of pizza, bagels, and Korean fare.
The best part of it all was spending three days of uninterrupted time with my son, who is developing into an adult, with the exception of the time we spent with a high school friend of mine and her 13-year-old daughter. With them, we toured the Intrepid and crossed over to Brooklyn to see the views from Dumbo, and enjoyed a nosh at a market that offered great ambiance and city views at night.
This trip reminded me of how important it is to take the time to spend a day or two, or several, with a child. Just one parent. Just one child. Especially when they are middle schoolers who will be entering high school and embarking on the fast-track to young adulthood, with all the challenges that journey entails.
In my family law practice, I see families with two working parents with one or more children who are scheduled for activities such as sports, tutoring, lessons, band, competitions, events, you name it. In appropriate amounts, these are enriching pursuits. When children become middle-schoolers, they become more independent and want to spend more time with their friends and less time under parental wings. A good thing. But one-on-one time between a parent and a child at this developmental stage is still important to the bond between that parent and the child. Even when parents take advantage of one-to-one time spent with a child while transporting him or her somewhere during the daily or weekly routine of everyday life, there is the driving, event, or venue competing for the attention of both. The focus is not entirely on the time together with one another, taking in something different.
Parents going through a divorce may need to make the extra effort to carve out one-on-one time with each of their children. Doing so during an otherwise emotionally charged period will fortify the parent-child bond. Plus, you’ll be making memories you can keep forever. So, get away and do something different with your children, one at a time. These shared experiences are special.
During our trip to New York, we spent a lot of time just walking to someplace or taking in the sights and sounds from Midtown South to Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, or wherever else we were going at that time. We enjoyed the views together, talked about our experiences, planned on what we would like to eat, and participated—just us—in all the things we did that day. We sent copious pictures to family of our travels and adventures.
Walking just 1/10th of a mile between city blocks with the constant human foot traffic, honking horns, bike deliveries going to all compass points and the din only New York City can bring to the table were new experiences for my son, and I got to watch him experience those things (he’s actually been to Manhattan before but was too young at the time to remember any of it now, as he told me).
We spent our time together, without the distractions of school or extracurricular activities, daily routines, or computer time with his friends for games or chats.
Nothing competed for our time together in New York during our boys’ trip.
As children become young adults, they have to navigate through the challenging process of growing up and taking on more and more responsibility for themselves. From time to time they will need some guidance from their parents. A strong parent-child bond is essential for a good relationship between the mentor and the protégé, so to speak. So, I highly recommend that parents, whether their marriage is intact, or whether the parties are divorced, arrange for each parent to have some extended one-to-one time with their teenagers doing something that, for them, is out of the ordinary.
Take it from me: the benefits are worth the time and effort.