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Opinion

Summer Holidays: An Opportunity for a Bit of Parental Reframing

A great deal of how we perceive the world and the perspectives that we take on what we perceive can be atttributed to the cognitive frames that we develop throughout our lives. Frames help us make sense of a very complex world and, in a very real sense, allow us to move through our days without going absolutely bonkers! 

As Sanda Kaufman, Michael Elliott and Deborah Shmueli point out frames can help to explain why we two people can see the world in such different ways:

“Because frames are built upon underlying structures of beliefs, values, and experiences, (people) often construct frames that differ in significant ways.”

The different roles that we have in life can have a strong influence on the frames that we develop. To his hockey coach, Graham might appear to be a disciplined and highly skilled team leader. But to his grade eight teacher, the same child might be seen as an unmotivated, highly disruptive student. 

And both may feel very justified in making the assessments that they do. Modern society forces all of us to become actors on many different stages and in many different scripts. Not only are our roles different, but the individuals and institutions responsible for “directing” us in those scripts have different expectations, needs and views of our potential.

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve probably had at least one experience where, sitting at a report card interview you’ve wondered whether you’re actually discussing the same child!

I’ve been thinking a great deal this week about how summer vacation allows us to give our kids a chance to escape from some of the frames that are placed on them throughout the year. Currently, we’re spending some time at a little cottage resort just outside Algonquin Park. It’s a pretty safe place for Luke and Liam. There are natural boundaries that let them know how far they can wander. There are a whole bunch of other families who, in addition to keeping their eyes open for each others’ children, also help us to see our own boys in different ways. 

But many of the frames that are placed on them at home don’t exist here. In this place, the frame of baseball player, student, grandson, nextdoor neighbour and “best friend” have been temporarily removed. Here, the frame of “you need to be in to bed by 8:00”, or “you need to be up and out of the house by 8:30” have, for now, dissolved. 

And, slowly, many of the frames that I, as a father, place firmly around their lives have started to fade. The result has been a wonderful opportunity to see and appreciate my children in a different way. I am quicker to welcome the silly, the gross, and the downright hilarious. I’m more open to walking beside them, meeting them where they are, doing what they’re interested in doing (it almost always involves ice cream) and listening. I’ve re-engaged with the people they are, and not the people that I (and others) expect them to be.

I know that when we return to routine of home, it will be natural for frames to be built once again but these two weeks in July have allowed me to become more conscious of the many different frames that are active in the lives of my own children.

There’s a popular radio spot here in Ontario for an organization called The Boundless School. Offering the opportunity to earn high school credits through outdoor, team-oriented activities, their rather clever tagline encourages parents to “send us your kid, and we’ll send you back a new one.”

Instead of sending my kids off for a couple of weeks on their own, however, the past couple of weeks have alerted me to the power of giving them the opportunity to be free of some of the perspectives that frame their lives for most of the year. I sense that Luke and Liam really haven’t changed that much during this vacation time.

But watching them in what is likely pretty close to their “natural state” sure has had an effect on me!