I didn’t grow up going to camp. In fact, I didn’t really grow up going over to other people’s houses or sleeping away from home. After years of being friends with the same four girls, I eventually reached a stage where on occasion I would spend the night at one of their houses or they would come to mine, but even that tended to be rare. So, everything I knew about sleep away camp came from watching The Parent Trap (the 1961 Haley Mills version, thank you very much!) and reading a book series called Camp Sunnyside Friends.

Fast forward 30 years when I found myself considering sleep away camp for my 9 year old daughter and my 7 year old son. A variety of factors led me to the camps I chose and the (spoiler alert!) decision to send them, and a lot of my personal reasons are irrelevant. But the numerous questions that spun around in my head are likely the same as most parents. Even those familiar with camp or having attended themselves, were probably thinking:

  • Will people think I am just sending my children away so I can party?
  • Will people think my children are bad or difficult and I’m sending them away to be fixed?
  • Will my children think that I don’t want them with me? Will they feel abandoned?
  • Am I just trying to live vicariously through my children?
  • Will I be losing/missing time with them I’ll regret later (because children grow up so fast)?

If you’re struggling with those questions and feelings, you’re not alone. That’s normal. Every decision a parent makes is fraught with some level of anxiety and fear about future ramifications your children will have to deal with as well as the fear of being judged by family, friends, or “school mom friends.” But what I realized is that I was making the classic mistake of turning something that is supposed to be about my child into something about me. This decision ultimately has nothing to do with me and I shouldn’t spend one second worrying about what anyone else might think about it.

The only thing I should be thinking about is whether I think my child will grow from the experience. And of that I had (and continue to have) no doubt whatsoever. And so yes, sending my children away for 7 weeks does say something about my family. It says I love my children enough to want to give them the gift of a safe place filled with new experiences and new friends, free from the anxiety that is ever-present in youth thanks to too much technology and the “fear of missing out” and “keeping up with the Joneses” promoted by social media influencers. It says that I want them to experience being fully present in the beautiful, natural world around them where they can broaden their horizons, try new things, and develop confidence, leadership skills, and empathy that will help them become the best versions of themselves. It says that I trust them, and myself, and our family love and bonds, that sending them away won’t irreparably harm them or our relationship.

And every time I pick my kids up from camp and see how they have grown and changed since I dropped them off, I am reminded of who it’s really for and that it is more than worth any emotional and financial investment on my part.