Mom, if you’re afraid of sending your kid to camp you’re not alone. You might even think, “What kind of mother would do that – send her kid AWAY for three weeks or more? What will the other parents think? Or my family? Will they think I don’t love my child?”
And that brings me to point #1 — Fear of Judgment.
#1 If you Love your Child you Don’t Send her “Away” to Camp
You might actually have someone in your life telling you that parents who send their kids to camp aren’t “real parents” or that they have a “boarding school mentality” or are “selfish.” Sometimes it can be a person in a close parent clique or playgroup with strong and vocal opinions about everything, and that person may seem to know more than you do.
Having to contend with this is real, and can make you feel vulnerable and judged, even if your reasons for considering camp are well researched, pedagogical, or based on sound science and developmental needs, like wanting your child to have more time in nature and/or away from screens.
But no matter how much you’ve learned about how important camp is for your child, if someone close to you pressures you by suggesting sending your child “away” is mean and unloving, you’re going to feel that as negativity, possibly creating doubts in your own mind, maybe wondering, “Am I a bad mother?”
There’s a strong cultural component today that suggests truly loving moms spend every possible moment with their children. Even though this viewpoint is not necessarily right — everyone needs time for themselves, moms included — that doesn’t take away the effect of peer group pressure nor the natural human desire to fit in and not rock the boat of others’ expectations.
I know — because in addition to being a camp director, I’m the mother of three kids under eight. I see things outside of the camp world. I hear things in the parenting world. I feel pressure too, and I get how difficult and confusing this can feel.
It seems our generation of moms is fated to contend with the belief that very visible, amply demonstrated, all-family time (or as much time with your children as possible), such as what’s seen on Facebook on Instagram, is a sign that you’re really doing parenting right. And if you don’t do that, and show it, or talk about it, you may appear to not care as much as others, no matter that behind the scenes you’re just as loving as anyone else.
The “appearance” can be even worse if you’re doing something different from others, like actively choosing sleepaway summer camp for your kids.
This fear of judgment is too much pressure, and it’s actually less, not more, healthy for families to have to comply with the peer group.
I’m truly sorry if you’re going through this. No one likes to be judged. I’d be nervous to send my child to summer camp, too, if I thought my friend group or extended family would judge me harshly for doing so.
Judgment is painful — and it’s one reason moms today fear doing something so wonderful as sending their kids to sleepaway camp. Finding the courage to overcome this is definitely a challenge.
#2 I’ll Miss Her So Much — Too Much
Part of the pressure to appear always involved with our children is the fear that good mothers will be emotionally tortured by the time apart. A mom can truly feel like she’ll miss her child too much to let go even for a few weeks. Or she can feel that she should feel this, which is just as powerful, and so she tells herself that she can’t withstand the time apart. It can go both ways.
Moms today often feel less like their child can’t handle the time apart at camp, but that she, the mom can’t endure it. I actually hear this multiple times a week from moms I talk to — “Oh SHE’S ready, it’s me who’s not!” So you’re not alone in feeling this way.
Yes, three weeks apart can feel like a risk. Missing each other is natural. And yet so is time apart — it’s natural.
My advice is to find another way to keep your child in your heart while she’s away. Perhaps it’s a bedroom re-do for her that is easier to do if she’s not living day-to-day life at home in her bedroom for those one or more camp weeks. The bonus is a surprise gift for when she returns — a bigger girl’s room!
Or maybe with her away you can finally find the time to get to organizing all the family photos. While doing so you’ll have time to reflect on her growth and development, a way to process missing her in a healthy way, while also tackling a meaningful project. Giving her her own “my story” photo book as a reward is a wonderful way to reconnect upon her return. You can pore over the photos together, and add some camp ones in, too!
Remember that stuff about absence making the heart grow fonder? It’s not just about romance. It’s about life and relationships in general.
You love your kids and they love you. Both of you can handle a temporary separation that’s designed for your child to grow and for you to refresh so that you can come back to parenting with renewed vigor.
Yes, you might miss her. But when she returns your love will only grow.
She might miss you. But when she returns she’ll feel reassured because the world she knows is the world she comes back to.
This is good stuff! Camp is good stuff!
#3 I Never Went to Camp, Why Should My Kid?
If you never went to camp, the very notion of sending your child can naturally feel quite foreign.
But there were differences between then and now that makes camp even more urgent today. When you were a kid you probably played outside and so didn’t suffer from the very real condition of Nature Deficit Disorder.
You were probably allowed to walk/bike/skateboard (even take a bus/subway) to your friend’s house.
You weren’t addicted to screens and your life wasn’t defined by social media, with all its added pressures on kids today.
You didn’t have parents who faced enormous pressure to present themselves as totally selfless and totally involved in their kids’ lives.
In short, today’s world is not yesterday’s. There are a million and one reasons why camp just a decade or so ago was a “no brainer” and why today it’s so fraught with emotional issues. I’m not saying you didn’t need camp in 1980 or ’90 but I can say that if you had gone, your parents wouldn’t have faced a wrath from their associates that adds to your camp fears today.
For those who went to camp back then, camp today IS a no brainer. But if you don’t see yourself as a “camp person” or as a “camp mom,” you might want to spend time learning more about why experts are so strongly recommending summer camp for kids today.
The issue you might look at to help make you feel more informed and overcome your fear of the unknown is, “What do kids need today? And how does camp help with this?”
Some ways to make camp feel like a less fearful choice include:
- Finding out through the American Camp Association the difference between accredited and non-accredited camps.
- Researching the values and mission statements of a given camp.
- Looking at different camps’ histories.
- Booking a call with a camp director in addition to reading online material — that way you can make the bridge to a personal connection.
- Visiting the camp for a personal tour during the summer season to witness first hand what camp is like.
- Asking to be put in contact with a camp family to ask them what camp is like for both the child at camp and the parent at home.
- And getting some talking points that help gently and positively defend your decision TO send your child to camp if others are critical of you.
Sticking With Fears
I hear so many parents talk to me about their fears that I’ll be doing several more blogs about fears in the coming weeks. My greatest hope is that highlighting these fears will help you recalibrate them in new ways that can help you in your ever-evolving life as a parent.
Please stay tuned to my blog for more!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls