The First Stage of Letting Go: Sleepaway Camp

Group of children at summer camp running through a woodland area with their guide/teacher walking behind them.
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It’s been five long days since I put my son on the bus heading to overnight camp. I did not react right away, but after a day of him not being in the house, I started to crack. Parenthood is never easy, but this was a new, almost bizarre, experience for me. For the last nine years, I was fully responsible for my son’s every move and knew where he was and what he was doing at all times. Now I had to face the challenge of letting him go. By the giant smiles on his face in the pictures, it’s clear that this is more of an issue for me than for him.

During the second night my son was away, I had an awful nightmare that he got hurt and I was not there to help him. I woke up with such fear and guilt about my decision to send him away. What was I thinking? No phone calls. No immediate feedback. No way of knowing what was going on. Was I being an irresponsible parent? What if something happens and I’m not there to comfort him? What if he needs me? Will he ever forgive me?

When the camp started posting pictures, I was so excited to see what my little boy has been up to. Let me tell you – he’s having the best time of his life! I saw him smiling at a campfire, bonding with his new bunk mates, heading down the lake in a raft, playing basketball, and partying at the camp welcome dance.

Oddly enough, the tears started pouring down my cheeks when I saw such happy photos of my son. I should be relieved that he’s adjusting well and having a blast, but something inside me didn’t feel quite right. I wasn’t the one responsible for providing those amazing moments for him. I wasn’t there sharing those fun experiences with him. He was out in the great big world having fun without me, and this was upsetting.

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It all sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Although not if you consider the tremendous strength of the mother-child bond. I just didn’t predict that I’d be the one to struggle when that bond went on hiatus for four weeks. The good news is that I raised an independent son who’s not afraid to go off on his own, but the bad news is that this is a bigger adjustment for me than I could ever imagine.

However, as many friends and experts have noted, giving our children the gift of overnight camp is one of the best things we can do for them. As painful as it is to set our kids free and lose control over them, in the long run they’ll only grow from the time spent away. Our main job as parents is to give our children the tools they need to go out into the world and discover who they are and what they want to become. A child can only truly grow if given…

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