When Parents are “Campsick” for their Campers

In the camp industry there’s one thing we know for sure and that is that sleepaway campers never really get that homesick. There, I said it. (And I wrote about it in the blog post linked in the previous sentence.)

Yes, often first time campers will get a little bit homesick. And by a little, I mean a very tiny bit. And only a few will feel this way, not all by any means. It is truly a rare case when a child experiences debilitating homesickness. And it’s almost as rare for a bout of homesickness to last more than a fleeting hour or afternoon.

But in spite of this, homesickness is still something that parents ALWAYS have on their minds when considering sleepaway camp.

Even if their children have had sleepovers, a weekend away with the grandparents, or a babysitter for a few days while mom and dad went out of town, still parents come to me — and to other camp professionals — terrified that their child will never make it through one — let alone three weeks of camp — without being gripped by terrible homesickness.

It’s difficult to reassure parents because with first time camp being an unknown for most parents, particularly for parents who themselves didn’t go to camp, all they can picture is this unknown place with unknown people in an unknown experience.

So I sympathize.

Add to this that these are your babies. Whether they’re seven-years-old or 15 it doesn’t matter — if it’s the first time away for an extended time to a new place of course you’re going to fear that your child will be homesick.

Missing Your Baby

But since few kids are it’s my suspicion (and one that I’ve had backed up by some parents who’ve shared their concerns) that what really might be going on is that the parent is the one who is “campsick.” And by campsick I mean that the parent is pining away for her child, the parent is missing her child, the parent is at home fretting over the child’s experience and feeling disconnected to it, and that the parent simply can’t wait to see her camper again!

I understand this, too. In spite of the fact that I essentially spent almost every summer of my life at camp, and then worked at camp, and now am running camp, well, that didn’t make it that much easier to send my then six-year-old son Mason off to his first sleepaway camp last summer.

I missed him! I thought about him often. I worried that he’d forgotten his favorite stuffed animal. His chair was empty at meals and I didn’t get to kiss him goodnight at bedtime. I couldn’t wait to see him again. So I really, really do sympathize!

Imperfect Tips for Coping

I wish I had an ironclad answer to soothe those pangs you feel when your child is away from home. I can say maybe try our Family Camp one year and do the camp thing together as your clan!

I can remind you of the nearly hundred summers that we’ve been in operation with successful outcomes for children and parents in getting some time away from one another in a healthy way that allows both generations to grow, and explore, and flourish.

I can suggest taking that time when your child is away from home to do some project that you’ve been meaning to do that also focuses on the child  — like redecorate her bedroom, re-do the Rec Room, create a study-cubby, design chore charts for the school year ahead — anything that helps you think about and care for her during her absence that will make her return all the m ore exciting because you’ll both have something to share with one another.

I wish I could make it not hurt, help you not feel those pangs in seeing her empty bed and wondering if she’s too warm or not warm enough.

I wish I could give you a hug and say, “Don’t worry; remember? You taught her well! She’s doing great and she’ll be home before you know it.”

I wish saying, “This too shall pass,” was enough when all you want to do is scoop her up and hold her close and talk and laugh and plot to build ice cream sundaes together.

Silver Lining

The truth is that all those things are true. The time away is short though it can seem long. She is having a great time and you can do great things too. You will miss her and she will miss you but soon enough you will be together and lots of special new times will unfold.

I hope you’ll also remember that you’re giving her a great gift in her self-development to take some time away from home all on her own in a trusted and well-practiced environment driven by passionate and dedicated camp professionals who have her best interests at heart. And we have your best interests at heart, too. We are partners with parents in the child-development (and hence parenting-development) trajectory.

We’re here for her and we’re here for you. And on that note I’ll add that that first summer may be the hardest. But summer after summer and we become like family to you. And then it is a lot easier to celebrate her going off for that quick blip each summer to a place that’s like a home away from home. A place that, in the end, helps your home life, too.

— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls