The Suitcase Activity goes like this: draw a suitcase on a piece of paper. Be sure to leave plenty of room inside. Now think of your children as they are grown into young adults and ready to go out into the world. You are ready to send them off, but you have one task left as a parent: what do you want them to bring with them in their suitcase? What will they take with them throughout their lives that you have provided for them?
This activity, though simple enough, is interesting in a couple of ways. One is the way in which it inspires me to think long and hard about what, as a father, I have been teaching them, and the connection—if any—between my way I am raising them and the kind of people I want them to be. I’m sure you have found that what you think you are getting across to your kids may not translate as directly as you would like.
For example, if I want my daughters to be independent and self-sufficient, am I giving them the space that they need to investigate and discover things on their own, rather than dictating information? Do they feel a sense of wonder at the world and the way it works? Do they want to seek things out? More importantly, do I make them feel comfortable with experimenting even when they may come up with the wrong answer? Do they feel they can make mistakes? Are they ready to try something else instead? As you can see, this can get complicated. It can even, if you do it right, get a little unsettling.
So, if I want my children to be able to explore and come to informed conclusions, what do I put in their suitcase?
A drawing pad and pencils? My girls like to draw what they see. They like to tell stories with their pictures, and they like to portray things as they could be (climbing to the top of the mountain) or even as they couldn’t, just to see what it would look like (using their wings to land there).
Books? My eldest daughter is into reading herbalist tomes; they all like to pore over their huge natural history book and my wife’s hefty Art Through the Ages. Maybe they need a library card.
Tools? Definitely a screwdriver. Lots of tape. A compass, a flashlight and a magnifying glass. A mirror, so that what their actions and words can reflect what they mean to do and say (something their father is still working on).
What else? A key to my house. The phone numbers and addresses of their sisters. Knitted items. Snacks.
The other interesting thing about this activity is that, as you can see, it’s much more about us as parents—our hopes, fears and expectations, our strengths and limitations—than it is about them. And yet…there’s still time. If I want to put these things in their suitcase I’ve got some gathering to do.