Going away to camp is a big step for kids but it might be a bigger issue for single dads. Are your reservations about your kid going to camp making them homesick?
If you are like most parents, you are very involved in the lives of your children. You know their friends; you haul them around to all their after-school activities; you can name their current favorite song and what they most like to eat; and you talk together about things that truly matter. You may have even purchased a cell phone for them in order to stay in touch several times a day. Imagine all of that coming to an abrupt halt overnight!
No, I’m not talking about some kind of disaster; I’m talking about what it will be like when your child goes to away to camp. Suddenly the house may feel very quiet and empty! I say this because camp is going to bring about a temporary, but major shift in your relationship with your child. In short order, you are going to have some extra time on your hands. In all of the things I’ve seen written about helping parents prepare for camp, most focus on what to bring, what to buy—and maybe a little on what to say to prepare your child emotionally. But few if any talk about what you as a parent can do to prepare for this important separation.
Not that being away from your child is all bad. Many parents secretly covet the time they will have for themselves, mildly guilty that they might just enjoy this peace and quiet and the respite from all the responsibility! Whatever your feelings, it is important to recognize just what they are so you convey the message you wish to convey—a message that assures your child that this choice called camp is a wholesome, healthy opportunity.
You see, children know. They can tell by the hesitation in your voice or the look on your face or by the number of times you ask them how they think they’re going to feel being away from home. (Isn’t it funny how asking a question can actually be making a statement?) And if you aren’t truly ready, your children will know, and they won’t be able to go without being homesick, without being worried about you and whether the two of you can survive apart from one another—or worried about whether the program they elected to join is really as good for them as you say.
So what can you do? First, talk with a friend or spouse about it. What are you feeling? What was the reason for sending your child to camp in the first place? Having an outside perspective can help us look more evenly at our own.
Second, think about what your child will gain. Yes, they may be a little nervous at first, but they will be making new friends and growing in many ways. And the learning is not restricted to things like an improved tennis game or swim stroke. The learning comes from the priceless experience of being on their own—full of themselves and thriving in a safe environment that encourages healthy risk-taking. In other words, they will be learning to cope. What greater ability to endow a child with in this day and age?
Third, if you want to deepen your own growth, read Wendy Mogel’s book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee (Penguin Compass Books, 2001). It is an elegant argument for the value of learning from the inevitable pains and setbacks of life. Dr. Mogel’s aim is to help parents raise children with greater resilience, respect, and sense of coping.
And finally, reflect on what message you send if you don’t resolve your own feelings about letting your child go. Your children will scan your face to get the answers to questions like, "Do you think I can possibly learn to cope in the world?" "Do you believe in me?" "Are you going to be okay without me?" "Am I going to be okay without you?"
As you reflect on this, trust that the connection you have with your child doesn’t break or evaporate when you are physically apart. Everything you have taught them is there. Having anxiety or sadness about seeing them off is entirely reasonable and understandable. How can you love your kids and not have some feelings like these? Yet, one of the most valuable lessons we as adults can model for our children is that even in the face of our feelings, no matter how strong, we do what is best ("yes, I love and care about you! . . . and I can let you go!") What a great life lesson for them to have!
Bob Ditter is a child, adolescent, and family therapist in Boston, Massachusetts.
Reprinted from May 2007 CAMP e-News by permission of the American Camp Association; copyright 2007 American Camping Association, Inc.
Richard “RJ” Jaramillo, is the Founder of SingleDad.com,
a website and social media resource dedicated to single parenting and specifically for the newly divorced, re-married, widowed and single Father with children.
RJ is self employed, entrepreneur living in San Diego and a father of three children. The mission of SingleDad is to help the community of Single Parents
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