The Anxious Mom's Guide to Sleepaway Camp Survival
You CAN do this, I promise!
Ah, summer camp. Frolicking through the meadows and mountains, canoeing along the lakes and streams, and spending a week making new friends far away from home.
Our family can easily be labeled: Summer Camp People.
Camp is super important to us and it featured heavily in the formative years of both my partner and I.
Last year (at age 7) was the first year my baby was able to go to sleepaway camp and even though I was RIDICULOUSLY excited for the experiences and joy that they were going to get to experience for the first time, I was completely blindsided by the Mommy Freak Out that occurred shortly after I watched that bus depart.
Whoa. Mama. Emotionsssss.
(Full Disclosure: I absolutely have an anxiety disorder and if worrying were an Olympic sport, I would be a reigning gold medalist.)
Watching that bus drive away, knowing my sweet 7-year-old was on it and going to go stay with strangers for a week felt like a roundhouse kick to the chest.
WHAT DID I JUST DO? I mentally screamed at myself.
When I got home, the house was quiet. Too quiet.
I saw the piles of pre-camp packing and repacking were still on the couch and I almost cried over a pair of socks. It totally doesn’t matter that I spend every other week of the year hollering at said child to pick up their smelly socks off the floor… now that they weren’t here, it was just a reminder.
All of the pre-camp paperwork covers how to deal with separation anxiety in children, but none of it addresses separation anxiety for parents.
In my heart of hearts, I wasn’t all that worried about my kid. They have spent a lot of time in daycare due to my work schedule and they also thrive in adventurous environments. I was sure they would be having a blast.
But me? I felt… weirdly lost. I obsessively checked social media for updates about the campers (I later learned that the camp doesn’t do social media until after the kids are gone… for privacy reasons). I reread the paperwork that explicitly says: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
I probably drove my partner batshit crazy with “What if?” scenarios that both of us veteran camp staffers knew were highly, highly unlikely. I am forever thankful for his calm voice of reason when I am in High Anxiety Mode.
"No, they don't have grizzly bears on the Coast."
"Yes, all the lifeguards know how to swim... it's what makes them qualified lifeguards."
"I doubt that they purposefully seek to feed the children red food dye..."You know. The usual worries. *eyeroll*
Needless to say, it was a rough week for me. Thank God I had work to dive into and distract me. Friday came around and I was there, at the pick up location, waiting for the bus, my heart in my chest. Did they miss me? Did they have fun? Did they wear sunscreen? Did they shower?
Soon enough the bus pulled in and a stampede of children tumbled out, sleepy, dirty, and smelling strongly of campfire. My baby was there, laughing with new friends that they made, their hair an absolute nest of messy, and the biggest smile on their face. We survived and then we thrived.
Kiddo went on to four more overnight camps last summer and had an incredible time and while it was hard with each one, it did get easier on me. This year? Drop off went so much smoother and the anxiety was a little bit less.
Here are some tips to remember:
Follow the List & Invest in Good Quality Labels
Every camp has a packing list. Contrary to popular belief, it’s actually not an arbitrary list that someone just decided upon at the last minute. It’s a list of what they actually need. When you are packing up your little darling for camp and thinking of every scenario in the book—resist the urge to overload your kid on supplies or snacks.
Make sure they have what they need, not what you think they need—THIS INCLUDES PHONES AND MEDS. If the camp specifically says no electronics, follow. the. directions. Little Billy may absolutely LOVE talking to MeMaw and PawPaw every single day of his life, but when he’s at camp? Let him be at camp and have those experiences sans electronics. It’s important for kids to learn to unplug too. If the camp says “YOU MUST DECLARE MEDICATION,” then follow. the. directions. Investing in quality labels will also help your kid come home with everything they were sent with. Probably. When in doubt, include a giant trash bag for them to throw all their dirty clothes in and shove into a corner of their suitcase.
Think About Sentimental Stuff
Does your kid have a lovey that they cannot live without? Overnight camp is a great place for Teddy to accidentally get lost. Considering working together with your child to find an alternative that will be a good camp lovey for the week. Trust me. As someone who almost caused an international incident when we realized at the border that we left Doggie at a rest stop in Canada….you really don’t want to have to deal with it. We got Doggie back but it was a giant pain in the ass. Save yourself the trouble—have a travel lovey.
Worried that you are going to be unable to call for updates every day? Write letters to your kid instead. They will love getting mail and it will be waaaaaaay less intrusive and the camp staff won't label you as that person. Check your registration paperwork for instructions on mailing stuff to your kid. Want to receive letters BACK from your kid? Make life easier for them. Self address postcards to you and put stamps on them and then put it in their camp journal. Maybe you'll get some mail, maybe you won't!
If you are a worrier, it’s important to have a plan about how you are going to distract yourself for the time that your child is out of the house and at camp. Don’t live on social media and obsessively refresh the Facebook page and don’t call the camp for daily updates. Trust me when I tell you: if there is an issue—the camp WILL call you. They want your kid to have a safe, happy, awesome week.
Instead of dwelling in perpetual anxiety on the couch, go spend some time with your friends, your partner, your other kids… Work late. Go see a movie. Go on vacation. Paint your house.
Just, make a plan to occupy yourself and the time will fly by.
Make a Plan for Homesickness
While it might seem like second nature, don’t promise your kid that you will pick them up the second they get homesick. I know, I know, it sounds like a horrible thing to say. What if your kid, like mine, goes to camp at age 7? They are basically a baby!! Who doesn’t go rescue their baby?!
Calm down and take a breath. One of the beautiful parts of camp is the teaching of independence and letting kids spread their wings a little bit. Let them learn to problem solve a bit. If they truly are inconsolable and the Camp Director recommends you come get them, that’s when you should make that decision. Not before. Those pre-camp handouts you got in the mail? Talk about them with your kid before you send them. If they have never stayed overnight away from you ever before, do a camp practice run at the house of a friend or family member. Your kid WILL miss you. But you can give them the tools to be successful too.
Ultimately, camp isn’t about you. It's not about the experience you had when you went to camp. It's not about the experience your friend's roommate's brother had either. It’s about your kid. Don't put a ton of pressure on them. Maybe they will learn how to be some sort of survivalist extraordinaire. Maybe they will be the World’s Most Mediocre Popsicle Stick Artist. Maybe they will successfully paddle FORWARDS in a canoe (a feat some adults I know can't do)! Or maybe they will just make it through their first week away from you.
It actually doesn’t matter.
Camp is as much about the experience that they get to shape for themselves as it is any quantifiable skills they may or may not learn. Give them the space and opportunity to do that.
That is why you are paying hundreds of dollars to let them go away from you for a week, isn’t it? Let go and let them live. They will come back to you at the end of the week, hauling some utterly filthy laundry and a ton of memories!
Extra Tip: Did your kid LOVE their counselor at camp? Did they have a major breakthrough and it’s all because “Slytherin the Camp Hiking Guru" spoke some wisdom to them that really stuck? Email the camp and let them know. Reference your kid and the week they were there and what really made a difference. It will mean a lot.
Thanks so much for reading! If you like what you read, please share with your friends! Don't forget to come say hi on Twitter @HeyBekahDee or visit my website at www.bekahwrites.com!