A few years ago, I found out a truth about my parents that blew my mind.

Growing up, we always went camping. My mother would take me on nature walks and teach me about the areas near our house. She would tell me to be on the lookout for bears and to never approach cubs. My father taught me how to cook with a dutch oven and showed me how to set up the tent. As equipment improved and tents weighed less, he bought one, learned how it worked, and taught me the best way to take care of it. Camping and being outdoors was just a natural part of my life. Dad taught me to canoe and went on all the father/son outings with me for church.

Whenever we would travel long distances that required stopping over night, we would bring the tent or sleep in the van. When we went cross country, we brought that canvas monstrosity and set it up every night on the way there and every night on the way back. When it leaked, we fixed it. We were in the tent, hot or cold. I have always assumed this is because the KOA is much cheaper than the local HoJo. As it turns out, there was another reason behind the decision.

My parents have revealed to me that neither of them like camping and my dad hates hiking. Mind Blown! It’s like taking my entire childhood and turning it upside down. Does that mean it was all a lie? Does that mean that there was no good reason for camping? Were they trying to teach us to hate it too? I couldn’t understand what it was. What they told me, I feel is important to share with others.

My parents took us camping and hiking as often as possible because they knew WE liked it. My siblings and I liked exploring the various landscapes of Utah because it was exciting as kids and my parents, knowing they wanted to be part of that with us, took the time to learn about it and teach us. They made it part of their parenting role to teach us the proper way to do something that they didn’t like. Obviously it is easy to use camping as an example because it doesn’t go against anyone’s morals, but the same is true for most recreational activities. It is the job of a parent, as a mentor and teacher, to help the child learn and grow in the areas in which they thrive. Often times in our culture, we assume it is our job as mentors and parents to give the children more than what we had. If we were not able to have the best dance teachers, we must give them the best. If we were not able to have the biggest house, we must give it to them. But, how often do we ask what they want?

My parents taught me an important lesson about self-sacrifice that did not include putting themselves down or keeping us from the best. Each of my siblings has gone a different way and finds supportive parents waiting regardless because they know that, in the end, the decision is ours and we are much better equipped to thrive in our decisions if we can say that we made them ourselves.

I’m sorry I cannot instruct in how to do that. I am still learning the subtle art of validation and autonomy. What I wish to convey through my story is that every single person is different and needs support to thrive in what they are good at. Even if we don’t like it.

– written by William Heaps, Recreational Therapist