A Camp With a Purpose
About the Guest
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Susan YatesSusan Yates has written 15 books and speaks both nationally and internationally on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and faith issues. Her books include And Then I Had Kids: Encouragement for Mothers of Young Children; And Then I Had Teenagers: Encouragement for Parents of Teens and Preteens; Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with friend Barbara Rainey) and Raising Kids with Character That Lasts (With her husband John). Her two new books are...more
Susan Yates and her husband wanted a way they could invest in their grandchildren and strengthen the relationships between cousins. With that, Cousin’s Camp was born. Yates talks about how preparing ahead and being intentional help to make camp days a success.
A Camp With a Purpose
Bob: When John and Susan Yates decided to host all their grandchildren for a few days of Cousin Camp, they realized they were choosing one thing over another.
Susan: The reality is that, in today’s world, we are overwhelmed with options. There are way too many good options. As parents, we have to think, “Okay, in the long term, ten years from now, is it going to be more important that we spent time with cousins or more important that we were there for that last baseball game?” Ten years from now, which choice is going to make the biggest and most-lasting difference?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. I know you’ve got a lot of questions: “How would we pull this off?” “What would we do each day?”—all the questions about Cousin Camp. We’re going to get some answers for you today from Susan Yates. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I noticed this week, as we were talking about Cousin Camp, I noticed your wife. I’m watching the wheels spinning in her head. [Laughter] Were you seeing it?
Dave: I don’t even have to look. [Laughter] I can smell it over there; it’s going to happen.
Ann: I have already been talking to Susan; because she’s a personal hero of mine, a mentor over years from a distance. I love being with her periodically, because I get to ask her all the questions. I was asking her questions about this camp, because I already want to start!
Dave: It’s in your DNA. [Laughter] It really is.
Bob: The Susan you’re talking about is our friend, Susan Yates, who joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Susan: Oh, thanks. It’s so much fun to be with you all.
Bob: Susan is a writer/a speaker. For years, she and her husband John spoke at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. He was the senior pastor at the Falls Church in Virginia.
She has just written a book, where she is giving a play-by-play for all of us on how to do a Cousin Camp—get the grandkids together, the cousins, and let grandma and grandpa—now, in your case, it’s Poppy and what?
Dave: Bob, what are you?
Bob: I am—and I picked this myself—I’m G-daddy, and Mary Ann’s Mimi. And you are?
Dave: I’m Poppy.
Ann: I’m Nonny.
Bob: Nonny?—alright. We’re talking about how Poppies, and Nonnies, and Gis, and
G-daddies can all get the grandkids together.
Dave: You do have the coolest name; I have to say.
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Bob: You can have an event/a camp for the kids. Some people will hear it and be immediately overwhelmed; we’ve talked about that
it can be simple; you’ve said there are really two goals in all of this. Goal number one is to cultivate a relationship between the grandkids/the cousins. Goal number two is for you to be able to pour into them some things—reinforce what mom and dad are saying, but coming from a different perspective—and for you to be able to be involved in discipling your kids.
Susan, I think the Bible paints pictures for us of the older generation being actively involved in their kids’ and grandkids’ lives. I think a lot of us have this idea that, when you get to the grandparenting years, it’s all about you; it’s not, is it?
Susan: No, it’s really not. It’s about the next generation. I think in life, for all of us, it’s always about the next generation and then the subsequent ones.
Bob: Yes, so this is an investment of time; it’s an investment of money. The kids have got to travel to get the grandkids there. If you’re buying arts and crafts, I mean, how much—
Ann: —and food.
Bob: —how much money do you spend?
Dave: Bob wants to know how much this costs.
Bob: What’s the budget for all this?
Susan: I don’t know; but it’s not a big budget because, again, we do simple food—we do sandwiches and salads during the day; we do simple things like chicken nuggets, and hot dogs, and hamburgers at night. It’s not about the food.
With the crafts—they’re simple crafts. One of my greatest finds is, usually before camp, I scour the neighborhood. I find a house under construction; I go to the builders and say, “Would you save me a pile in the corner of little pieces of wood?” You know, they’re always shaving off things. Then, I go back, and I collect the wood. I have about five hammers, and I buy nails with big heads; and that becomes a construction project—just tons of boxes of carpentry stuff out to our little farm. That’s one of our greatest crafts. The kids create the most amazing things: from airplanes to a puzzle with nails down it. Then you just have paints, so it’s simple; it’s not fancy.
Now, in our later years, I have two granddaughters, who are very crafty; they’re better than I am—I’m not crafty. Their mom/my daughter-in-law is real crafty, so I’ve turned over the planning of all the crafts to them. Again, it’s always sort of turning things over.
Bob: Have there been some things you’ve done, where you’ve said, “Okay, we’re doing that now every year,”—it’s an annual part of Cousin Camp.
Susan: Yes; one of the things that we do every year—and usually it’s the last night—is we/I bought a gutter/a roof gutter from the hardware store; we line it with aluminum foil. It becomes our county—it’s Warren County—it becomes “Warren County’s Largest Banana Split”; you know, Guinness Book of World Records type. We line it with ice cream and all the different kinds of toppings.
Another thing that has been a big surprise to me, that’s been one of the more popular things, has been our buddy system. We started this at our first camp. Every older kid has a younger buddy: they help them with crafts; they help them with anything they need help with.
Dave: It’s not their brother or sister; it’s a cousin.
Susan: Oh, no; we separate siblings.
Ann: And are you purposeful—who you put them with?
Susan: We try to be really purposeful; now, we have a big pool to pick from. That’s a big celebration: finding out whose buddy they get to be or whose buddy they are.
Dave: Have you every had one of your kids say—because I could imagine this happening in this culture with sports—“We can’t come; we have baseball,” and “School just ended; I know this is really important, but this is more important.”
Dave: Or have you had people/your family go, “No, this trumps everything. We’re going to be there.”
Susan: Because we started when they were young, and it became so popular amongst the kids, it’s been more the kids pressuring the parents.
Dave: Really? Good.
Susan: So we haven’t had to say that. It’s inconvenient for everybody, but the parents have made it a priority.
Dave: I’m guessing they’re saying, “Yes, we’re going to miss baseball this week.
Dave: “We’ll be there next week.”
Susan: I think our job, as parents, is to think long-term perspective and to ask the question, “In the long-term, is it going to be more important that we spent time with cousins or more important that we were there for that last baseball game?” Ten years from now, which is going to be more important?
That’s a question that helps in parenting, no matter what you’re considering; because the reality is, in today’s world, there are way too many good options. As parents, we have to think, “Okay, ten years from now, which choice is going to make the biggest and most-lasting difference?”
Dave: We had a former Detroit Lion player that Ann and I mentored over the seasons; now, he’s a coach in Chicago for the Bears. His wife texted you—or Facebooked you?—about their sons now are playing basketball—or I think it was basketball—and they’re really good athletes; you know, their dad was an NFL player. They wanted to go with mom to an away game that Dad would be coaching at. She texted Ann—right?—and said, “What do I do?” Because all the parents of the basketball team were like, ‘You cannot miss this game. We’ll lose the game if your kids don’t play.’” And what did you tell her?
Ann: I told her: her husband is her first priority; and for the kids, this will be a memory that—they’re going to have so many basketball games, but this opportunity with their dad—you don’t know how many times they’ll get to do that; so “Choose that.” They took some heat, and they lost without them.
Dave: And who’s going to remember that in ten years, right?
Ann: Yes, nobody.
Dave: Cousin camp’s the same thing. This is a memory that is building values that will be lifetime.
Bob: Speaking of memories, have there been some things you’ve tried one year and you said, “Boy, we’re never doing that again!” [Laughter] Any activities that just didn’t turn out the way you envisioned them?
Susan: Yes, there are several. We thought it would be really fun to have a whipped cream fight with the kids. You know, hotels give away those shower caps for free in your rooms?—we put shower caps on the kids that wanted shower caps, so their hair wouldn’t get sticky.
The first year, I used shaving cream; and it was awful. It stung; it tasted bad; it was terrible! The kids groaned. The next year, we switched to whipped cream, which they loved.
Ann: We made that same mistake once; because at the end of the school year, we had a slip and slide.
Dave: —every year.
Ann: —every year. All the neighbor kids would come. The year that I used the shaving cream—when it gets it their eyes, it hurts.
Dave: You learn.
Susan: Yes, you learn.
Dave: That was a learning.
Susan: That was a real mistake.
One of the things we’ve had to learn is balancing realistic expectations with surprises. In the beginning, John and I thought, “This is going to be such a great time for us to bond with each of the grandchildren and to have significant conversations with each of the grandchildren.” I mean, the first year, even with five, that did not happen. I felt like, “Uhhhh, I’m such a failure! I didn’t have a significant conversation with this grandchild.”
That was really an eye opener—that this really is not about building my relationship with them—that’s not the priority for this time—it’s about their relationships with one another. We had to let go of that expectation and realize that it’s during the year, when we’re with individual families, that we work on our individual relationships with those grandchildren, when it’s not so overwhelming with all the cousins.
Bob: Susan, you’ve got kids who are going to church/raising their kids in the church. There are a lot of folks listening, who are thinking, “I’d love to do this with our grandkids, and have a memory verse, and be discipling our kids; I’m not sure my kids would let their kids come if they knew we were trying to indoctrinate them.”
Susan: I tell a lot of stories in the book that are not mine/that are from other people. I tell the story of one friend of mine, who comes from a really painful heritage. The families disagree on a lot of things; but she still said, “I am going to take a risk, and I am going to have a family reunion.” This was a multi-generational one.
The one thing that this family has in common is: “We’re all connected to military—most of us in some way—service, or siblings who served, or different involvements in military.” So she had a military theme; it was just a day-long reunion. They had competitions, and they talked about character. People came a little bit hesitant; but they left, building new relationships, and having taken one step.
She said, “You just go with where you can.” The purpose, the first time, is to build these relationships.
Ann: I’m thinking of the listener that’s wishing their parents would do something like this. Could you ever see some kids asking their parents, “Could you do this for us?”
Susan: Yes; two answers to that. One is you have to be careful; you don’t want to put a guilt trip or an expectation on your parents that’s going to make them uncomfortable. I think you have to carefully approach the parents out of your relationship with them and within your own context. Perhaps say something like: “Hey, Mom, I want to run this idea by you. Would you be willing to bring the grandkids together for one day?” and “How could we help make this happen?” and “How could we support you in this?”
Or perhaps you are listening—and you’re a single parent or a single grandparent—bond with another single parent or a two-couple family, whose kids/grandkids are in the same general age group, and do it together.
Bob: That’s a great word. I’m thinking of a lot of single aunts or single uncles, who could really make this an investment and have a terrific ministry in the lives of their nieces and nephews.
Dave: Or if you’re somebody, who doesn’t have parents that would ever do this—and there’s a lot of people—you could do it.
Susan: You could do it yourself, yes.
Dave: You could say to your brother or sister, “Are you okay with me bringing your kids over and getting our kids together; and the cousins getting to know…?” and you lead it.
Susan: You lead it.
Bob: Have you and John ever gotten to the end of Cousin Camp, and looked at each other, and say, “Yes, this may have been the last year that we do this.”
Susan: Yes; as a matter of fact, we have finished, after 11 years, now that our grandkids are bigger. We had our last one after year 11.
Our children said: “What if we begin, as a family, to commit to meeting over Labor Day? We can pull little kids out of school on Friday. We can come in Thursday; stay until Monday.” We have a big family camp.
I think you have to be wise about when you’ve done it long enough. Now, our oldest is 21; so it’s time for a change; it’s time for a change. You have to realize that.
Bob: We have to recognize that, as grandparents, as we get older, our stamina/our—I mean, it’s just the reality of aging. Things we were able to do ten years ago, we may not be physically able to do with young grandkids, especially 21—I’m imagining you and your 21 grandkids—that’s part of the reality of aging, isn’t it?
Susan: It is. Most people don’t have 21 grandchildren. This book is not written for somebody in our situation, necessarily. [Laughter] One of the things we’ve done in the book is—the middle chapter is about creating your own camp. I’ve found so often, as you all know, you’ll read a book, and you’ll just be overwhelmed: “There’s too many ideas; there’s too much stuff. I can’t do all of this!” You’ll get to the end of the book, and you’re discouraged. You just sort of want to throw it on the couch or in the trash.
What I’ve done in this book is I’ve stopped in the middle, which is Chapter 5, and said, “Now, given what we’ve laid out, this is your chapter to begin design your own camp or family reunion.” There’s a lot in here about family reunions according to your needs. It’s a working chapter right in the middle of the book.
Then we go on with other ideas, with the idea that you can circle what you’re going to read in subsequent chapters and then go back and enter it in Chapter 5. The purpose of that is to keep anybody from feeling overwhelmed and to enable everybody to design what’s right for them, because no two families are alike.
Dave: The exciting thing for me—I’m not kidding—I’m inspired to do it. I can actually say I’m younger, so I can—[Laughter]
Bob: Got a little more energy? [Laughter]
Dave: I mean, I’m thinking my oldest grandchild is four; is she five yet?
Ann: She’s five.
Dave: She’s five. [Laughter] So if I did one this year—I’m saying I would do it; Ann would do it—Ann would do it; who are we kidding? There would only be one grandchild, so I’m going to have to wait a few years. But aren’t you excited? We can start planning this thing.
Susan: You can start at three; you don’t have to wait until four. That’s just what we did. Again, everybody’s different.
I would just want to say one thing about marriage. What Johnny and I had to realize, early on, is we have to be careful:
We are going to get tired—that’s a given.
We’re going to get irritable—that’s a given.
We are going to get put out with some different children—that’s a given.
We’re going to feel like failures—that’s a given.
Things aren’t going to go the way we planned—that’s a given.
So what do we do when this hits in our marriage? We have to learn that we are not competing with each other, but we’re completing each other. So when I am about done, I say, “Honey, I’m done; I need you to take over.” And he does the same thing. I think it’s a great lesson in how to work together in your marriage and play to one another’s strengths.
Ann: I’m assuming, after 11 years, you’ve had some sweet moments/some hard moments. Do you recall some moments that, when you and John went to bed that night, you were like, “Wow; that was really amazing what God had done.”
Susan: Yes; I think our last camp probably was the one that had us in tears, because with older children—again, the philosophy of having the kids speak into the younger kids’ life. We have a special ceremony that marks the end of camp; it’s called the BOC Ceremony, which stands for Band of Cousins.
We process, with candles, to an outdoor area on our property. It’s a solemn procession, and the kids have made a cross with all the carpentry stuff. We have the little ones say a pledge: “We pledge to love the Lord and take care of each other forever,”—that’s our pledge. The new ones are initiated into the pledge, and everyone claps.
Over the years now, because they’re older, everybody’s been initiated; so we think, “Okay, what can we do?” Johnny always gives a little mini-message, like four minutes, on what this means. “What can we do as they get a bit older?”
This past year, we asked our 11 oldest—they were all 10 or up—to take some sharing time during the BOC ceremony and share 3 things. Again, I pulled them together—positive peer pressure at work here—I pulled them together and I said: “I would like you all to share three things. The first thing is: “What is your favorite verse?” [Second]: “What is one thing you want God to do in your life in the coming year?” Then, three: “What is a piece of advice you have for your younger cousins?”
We had no idea what they would say. It was unrehearsed; it was those very simple questions. What they shared was amazing! One of my grandsons shared the verse in Proverbs about iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. That was his favorite verse; he said, “You really need to pick good friends, and stick with those friends; because you need buddies for your whole life.” I thought, “Oh, my goodness!” One of them shared that he wanted God to give him patience; that was his prayer for the coming months. Another one shared to the younger cousins: “Be thankful to your mom and dad.” I’m thinking, “Oh, my goodness; the parents ought to be here!”—you know? They weren’t.
That was really special for us; because you don’t know—especially as you hit those pre-teen years or the ten or eleven-year-old that’s really reticent to open up—you don’t know what’s going on inside of them.
Dave: And we know that—if Poppy says that, or Grandpa, or Grandma says that—zing!
Dave: But when a cousin says it? You know, as a pastor, when somebody comes in and preaches something, everybody goes, “Oh, my goodness!” I go, “I’ve been saying that for ten years!”—they never listen. But when the cousin says it?—it’s going to stick.
Bob: Just having this conversation—and it has been motivating and inspiring—I’m reminded of what a treasure you are and how all of us have benefitted from your writing over the years: And Then I Had Kids/And Then I Had [Teenagers]; the books that you and John have written together; the books that you have written; your contribution to the Art of Parenting® [video series]—and being a part of that with Dave and Ann—we’re just grateful that you’d be here with us and that you keep passing on the wisdom.
Dave: We’ve got a little bit of Cousin Camp right here. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right.
Ann: Thank you for training and teaching so many.
Susan: Oh, well, thank you! You know, we haven’t done it perfectly. Again, I want to leave with one thing: we’re all going to feel like we’ve ruined our kids, but our ability to ruin our children is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem them.
Bob: Yes, that’s great; thank you, Susan.
Susan: Thank you.
Bob: Thanks for the book/for a manual for all of us to have a guide for how to do this. The book is called Cousin Camp. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the title of the book: Cousin Camp by Susan Yates. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and order online, or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
By the way, Susan has created something special that we want to make available to you. It’s a downloadable PDF called “Camp at Home: 100 Practical Ideas for Families”; it’s free to download. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and you can download it from there.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to introduce you to a couple who, at one point, their marriage was a real mess; but God has turned that mess into a mission. We’ll meet Tim and Kathy Bush tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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