Why we send our kids to overnight camp

Today is our son’s 12th birthday – and for the third year in a row, we won’t be seeing him on our special day. (Because today is the day he, and his parents, were born).

Even though I know he will have an amazing day at camp, I’ll admit today is the day I miss my children the most and realize again, that I may never see our son on his birthday again.

(Let’s face it, it’s hard to compete with hundreds of children wishing you happy birthday, particularly in the summer when I can’t get more than two to RSVP to his party next weekend).

Each year I hear the same things from peers to complete strangers . . . “I don’t think I could send my kids” followed by either “I’d miss them too much” or “I don’t think they’d go.”

It’s easy to feel a bit . . . judged. And while I’m sure sending our children away for a month every summer can come across as hardhearted or selfish, I have resisted the urge to explain to these same strangers that we do not give up 1/12th of each year without good reason.

Resisted, until now. Because that’s what I have a blog for (right?).

Because they need a break
It’s been another long year, and the kids need a break – from friends, social pressures, summer reading & math packets, electronics, television, and us. Yes, my dear friends, the kids need a break from their parents – from the nagging, the chores, the to-do lists, and being dragged on another errand.

Because they need to break out
Of their routine – to meet new people, to hear new stories, and to try new things. They need to get muddy, wet, dirty, silly, crazy, and loud. They need to capture the flag, kill the counselor and compete in color wars. They need to cheer at the top of their lungs and sing quietly with their new friends.

Because we need to catch up
Parenting takes a lot of time, which means a lot of things just don’t get done. But the few extra hours in my day, plus a whole weekend without them, has allowed my husband and I to catch up on sleep, sex (!), reading, exercising, organizing, and finally figuring out how to change the settings on our home voicemail.

I’m particularly proud of getting this year’s school year photo album done and ordered!

Because they need to practice being independent & responsible
While at camp they have to take care of themselves – I’m sure they will brush teeth, wear sunscreen & bug spray, and remember to change their underwear, but I can’t make sure of it. They can make their own choices (what to wear, what to do, what to eat) as well as fulfill the responsibilities of being part of a group – turns out there are chores at summer camp! This “safe independence” will help them learn that they can be away from us.

Because we need to prepare
Let’s face it – the last twelve years have sped by. If we do our job, in just six more our son will be spreading his wings and flying out of our nest, followed a few years later by our daughter. When they leave there is no question that our souls will soar and our hearts will break – but I believe these weeks will help prepare us for what will come next.

13 thoughts on “Why we send our kids to overnight camp

  1. Wonderfully written. I never went for a month but I cherish the memories of my week long away camp. I hope to give my son those same memories and experiences.

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    1. Thanks Megan! I didn’t even speak to the memories I know they are making. As an overnighter myself, I hope they look back on these carefree days of summer as fondly as I do!

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  2. You should not feel one bit guilty! Our older daughter went away for 2 weeks this year (after one week last year) and, despite the cost, extra work to keep her sister entertained while she is gone, the horrible re-entry week(s) that follow and the fact that, yes, I miss her while she is away, we do it for all the reasons you mentioned. While very social, she is a homebody who is incredibly attached to us. Watching her spread her wings, take the leap and all those other metaphores for the few weeks make my heart swell with pride. My only regret is that, because of how our camp staggers the age groups, who knows how many years until I can have both of them going at the same time!

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  3. My day camp doesn’t take overnight word until they are 7, next year I could send BOTH boys but my oldest is adamant he doesn’t want to stay over (even though 2 years ago he did and lived it).
    I say I’m sending them both next year but in reality I worry they aren’t old enough.
    Is nearly 7 & 9 too young for a week away at camp,

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    1. Hey Shauna! Whether 7 is too young really depends on the child. I started going to Girl Scout camp when I was 6, and Sophie started at her camp when she was 7 and did great. 1 week was a great amount of time for her – although I believe she would have gone for 2 if I had let her!

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  4. That was a great post. I think overnight camp is such a great experience for kids to just be themselves..no social pressure to fit in that specific group or cliche. They can have fun, do new things and really get away from their parents and siblings. My older son, who is 12 as well loves camp, and would probably go all summer if we could afford it. My other son will go next year for a few days too, but I feel no guilt for either of them and neither should you.

    Camp is a terrific memory they will have forever, as I do from when I was a girl.

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  5. I agree completely and even more important for my son, who is an only child, learning to live with others and interact on his own without our involvement. He goes for three weeks and the time is difficult, but made so much much easier knowing what he learns and experiences while there is making him a more independent and responsible person. Worth every penny I pay and every minute he is away.

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  6. What a great story. I could agree more about the “gradual release” method for promoting independence and responsibility. I’ve been excited to prepare my child for Girl Scout overnight camp and the opportunity to meet others and get outside a regular friendship circle.

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  7. wonderful post! When my son went to Boy Scout camp for for the first time 2 years ago, I was so nervous that I gave myself a migraine. We visited for a few hours Wednesday evening (4 hour drive, ugh!) and I was so happy to see how comfortable and happy he was. He even had KP duty and served dinner to our table. I was amazed that he very confidently served and cleaned up without any instructions from me!
    This year was his 3rd year at camp. He’s gotten more sure of himself with each time and I’ve gotten a lot less nervous. The experiences they gain at camp can’t be taught at home or even by their parents.

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  8. My son gets back today from camp and I’m excited to hear about his trip and how it went. While I do miss them the reasons you put Kristin are exactly why we send them. They have a great time and learn to be independent. We are hoping he loves this particular camp as it builds to a 45 day trip before his Senior year. Both my husband and I have fond memories of our camp experiences.

    Shauna, Our YMCA camp has a intro camp for those 7-9 that is only 2 nights, 3 days. We sent our daughter last year to that experience and this year she did the full week and wants to do two weeks next year.

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  9. Great post! I have 2 sons with summer birthdays… I thought it would be so much fun… not so much! This year only 4 buddies can make my oldest party… out of 15! Maybe next year we will just send him to camp and celebrate in August!!

    He is getting so big… and handsome!!

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