Three cures for ‘childsickness,’ aka missing your child at camp
At the start of every summer we give new parents a copy of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help Kids Grow, because it really gets to the heart of how magical and transformative sleepaway camp is for kids.
At the end of the book, though, author Michael Thompson, Ph.D., turns his attention to the way parents experience camp from afar, and gives the feeling parents get after spending time away from their kids a name: childsickness.
It’s natural to miss your kids, particularly in an age when we spend far more quality time with our children than previous generations.
To manage this longing, Thompson offers seven helpful tips. We’ve already passed along many of them to you, such as not saying you’ll come get your child if they’re unhappy, and discussing the things they might experience at camp, from homesickness to having to clean up after themselves so it doesn’t come as a surprise. Managing their expectations before they leave will help you feel more comfortable once they’re out of your sight.
But when you’re in the throes of missing your boy or girl, here are three more tips to keep in mind:
1. Let your child enjoy the gift of going to sleepaway camp.
By sending a child off to camp, the gift you are giving him or her is letting go. They will undoubtedly come back a little more mature and confident, and filled with fun memories, and it will all happen on our watch. This can be an unsettling feeling for many parents, who have up until this point have been the primary focus / adult in their child’s life, but it is a natural part of growing up, and really, what better environment for them to become more independent and mature than Camp Walt Whitman?!
As Thompson writes, “You have to be willing to sacrifice that period of time with your child, and more important, be willing to let go of your importance in your child’s life to make space for someone else and new experiences.”
2. Use snail mail over email.
This may come as a surprise — and admittedly, we understand if it is impossible to follow when email is the quickest way to be in touch on a regular basis. But as Thompson points out, these “rapid-fire communications” undermine the sense of independence that camp fosters (and that we send children to camp to practice). His advice is to write letters.
“The time between sending and receiving a letter is a valuable opportunity for both parent and child to think about one another without having to do anything with or foreach other. You will be proud that your child was able to be away from you, and your child will be proud that you managed without him or her. It will also strengthen the bonds of love between you. So many parents have reported that their campers return more loving and demonstrative than they were before they left.”
3. Enjoy your time off from parenting.
Even if you have just one child at Camp Walt Whitman this summer, it is probably much quieter at home. Make the most of this downtime, even if you are feeling “childsick.”
“The brain of a parent is wired to connect with her offspring,” writes Thompson. “When they go away, our brain cells will be screaming, Where is she? Where is he? However, you cannot add value to your child’s camp experience by suffering–even silently. Like your child, you need to grow up.”
You may take umbrage with Thompson’s last point here, but you definitely deserve a break from the demanding job of parenting. Take comfort in the fact that your child is in very capable hands here—it’s why you sent him or her to Camp Walt Whitman in the first place, right? Trust us: we’re having a great time here. You should have fun, too.