Scouting with your son, being the parent of a Scout and a Scouter at the same time, can be one of the most enriching and memorable times you’ll spend together. Naturally there will be some difficult times but we can avoid letting them derail the experiences for ourselves and our sons if we prepare for them.
Characteristics that make a good parent and a good Scouter are similar but we are not going to impose the same expectations or authority we have for our own children on our Scouts. Parents are likely to be more demanding, more critical and more emotional when they deal with their own child. Separating the parental expectations for your son from your Scouting expectations you have for him as a Scout is tricky.
You are going to do and say things as a Scouter that make your son proud, but you’ll probably say and do some things that make him cringe. He will, no doubt, return the favor. Somewhere along the way this is probably going to create some tension.
Your son’s reasons for being a Scout are different from your reasons for being a Scouter. Sure, you want to spend time with your son but, as we’d expect, he’s probably more interested in spending time with his friends.
Parents and children have ‘inside information’ on each other. They know what goes on at home, school and work; they know each other’s history, strengths and weaknesses. Inside information is going skew your judgment and objectivity.
I think we need to accept that we all have “blind spots” when it comes to our own children. Having a trusted fellow Scouter help you watch for blind spots and lend some objectivity to this complex relationship can make things a great deal easier for you and your son. Of course you can return the favor and watch for their blind spots too.
I’d urge you not to switch between the roles of Scouter and parent too often, don’t treat your son as a son one minute and as a Scout the next; have a consistent approach that you and your son agree to ahead of time. Some things I see when young Scouts and new Scouters go on their first couple of camping trips are a good illustration of opportunities to keep the two relationships separate:
- Son wanders over to dad or mom and asks for something (a cup or a spoon or something like that) and mom or dad runs off to get it for them. If a Scout approached a Scouter with the same request what would we do? We’d probably tell them that Scouts are expected to bring their own cup or spoon and ask why they would expect us to have one for them.
- Son doesn’t like the food his patrol prepared and tells mom or dad and mom or dad shares their food with them. What would a Scouter tell a Scout in the same situation?
We should discuss this well ahead of time with our sons and explain that they need to accept the same responsibility for preparing and packing as any other Scout would; that he’ll be eating what his patrol brings, not what we bring, that we’ll be there as a Scouter and he’ll be there as a Scout. If he finds that he’s forgotten something he’ll speak with his patrol leader about the problem.
You may want to arrange for some specific time within a Scouting activity where you switch from the Scouter and Scout roles to the parent and son for a while. Maybe this is a few minutes before bedtime or just after a meal. You can both walk away from the group for a bit, address any concerns and share your thoughts with one another, then go back to the Scouter, Scout role. Discuss this idea with the other parent/Scouters and see what you come up with.
There will be times, especially with younger Scouts, when they need some consolation or help that only a parent can offer. When those times come it’s a good idea to step out of the Scouter/Scout role, step away from the group and resolve the issue.
What we do as parents effects only our children, what we do as Scouters effects other people’s children. If we understand the difference and prepare our sons and ourselves to observe the boundary between the two we’ll enjoy Scouting together and better help all of our Scouts do the same.