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Managing Parental Anxiety and Sadness When Your Kid Goes to Sleepaway Camp

Managing Parental Anxiety When Kids are at Sleepaway Camp

By Kelcey Kintner

There can be a lot of challenges when it comes to sending your kid to sleepaway camp. Making the decision to have them go (even when your child is ready but you’re not), figuring out what you REALLY need to pack and dealing with your own parental anxiety and sadness.

New York Mom Noelle P. had a ton of anxiety about sending her daughter to sleepaway camp.  But her daughter begged her to go and she finally relented. “I told her that I wouldn’t let my own feelings stand in the way of her growth and search for independence. I patted myself on the shoulder for my parental maturity. Lol.”

But after her daughter got on the bus to camp, Noelle fell apart. “I was a mess. I wore sunglasses to hide my tears. I sobbed hysterically for 30 minutes straight while holding my son for dear life after we got home.”

New Jersey mom Kimberly P. can totally relate. She says the day her kids left for summer camp was awful – with mostly a focus on crying and drinking cocktails. Thankfully, the camp called her that night to reassure her that her children were safe which definitely helped.

With kids at sleepaway camp, your house can feel pretty empty and you may start to channel that energy into refreshing the camp website roughly 10 million times a day to see if there are any photos of your child. Wait, is that Johnny’s foot in that group shot? It looks like his foot. Is his foot happy? Is his foot missing me? Is his foot sad? It’s really a downward spiral.

Without much contact with your child, Kimberly P. says you can’t help but analyze the photos. She says, “A sigh of relief when they look happy but of course you obsess over whether it’s a real smile or a fake smile…. I was that crazy mom that called last summer because my son wasn’t in enough pictures!! Sure enough the next day he was in tons.”

And dads get very emotional too. Dad Tom C. says it was torture when his son left for a month away.  (Yup, parents pay all that money for their kid to go to camp and then it’s torture.)  He says, “I lived by the clock because camp posted pictures at 1 pm and 6 pm every day. Seeing a genuine smile on his face helped, but over-analyzing become the norm – why is he off to the side? He’s picking at his fingernails, which is his “tell” sign that he’s nervous.”

Why was he off to the side?!! Alpha Mom is obviously investigating.

Beside the super focus (okay, complete obsession) on photos, missing your kid can come out in other ways too like overspending on care packages and excessive gifts on visiting day. That’s right kids. You might hate to see your parents cry but cha-ching, it could mean big loot in your future.

Carrie N. had a tough time after her first son left for sleepaway camp. And she admits the sadness did her in at times.  “I’m normally not one for excess or indulging but my anxiety got the best of me and my wallet.”

But if you’re super anxious and weepy about your kid going away, there is the good news!  All the experienced camp parents we talked to said it gets easier each summer. (Thank goodness, right?)

But in the meantime, how do keep yourself from clutching a bottle of Chardonnay while the tears stream down your face as you obsess over a six word letter from your child? Here’s some ideas that actually work….

1. Have Faith in the Camp You Chose

Unless you picked this sleepaway camp out of a hat in a frenzied state of summer anxiety, remember that you spent a lot of time picking out this particular place. And you chose this camp for good reasons. So try to have faith that they will take good care of your child. Because they will.

2. Know You’re Doing Something Good For Your Child

Dad John S. struggled when his daughter went to sleepaway camp for the first time. But it helped if he kept reminding himself why she was there. He says, “It is the first baby step toward teaching them how to become their own person by learning how to find their way though a completely new social situation and navigating their daily life independently.”

Independence. That definitely sounds good.  And just as good, a major break from social media.

Most sleepaway camps have a very strict policy of no phones so your child (who likely gets a steady stream of Snapchat, Instagram, texts, etc) is suddenly experiencing a very old school world and that can be a good thing for their creativity and life skills. And you can remind them that no one ever died from losing their Snapchat streaks.

3. Don’t Put Too Much Stock in One Sad Letter or Phone Call

Have you ever noticed that kids LOVE  to complain to their parents? So you are sure to hear about anything that isn’t going perfectly. Try to remember it’s just a moment in time.

Kimberly P. says, “Do NOT take what happens on the phone calls to heart. Almost every kid, even the happiest camper, gets sad when they hear their mommy and daddy’s voice. Trust in the camp and the staff and the letters you get. If it’s a good camp, you should always be able to call and ask how your kid is.”

4. Get Cracking on That Bucket List

Carrie N. recommends parents get busy with things you love to do. She says, “I’ve started a summer bucket list of things I want to do and accomplish while the kids are gone which I think will be very helpful in getting me through moments I’m missing them.”

So have you been meaning to train for a 5 K? Ride in a hot air balloon? Finally do that baby album? Visit some cool city you can’t believe you’ve never been to? Spend more time with your younger kids? Now might just be your opportunity.

And try to remember, your child is coming home way sooner than you think and in one hot second, you’ll be unpacking those grimy, mildewy camp clothes. So before that happens – get your groove back, Stella (or whatever you like to call yourself). Wipe away those tears and focus on all that stuff you used to do before kids took over your life. I bet you used to be pretty fun.

Photo source: Unsplash/@RyanCooley

Kelcey Kintner
About the Author

Kelcey Kintner

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog 

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog The Mama Bird Diaries and writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow her @mamabirddiaries or on Facebook. She’s still trying to fit 5 kids on a Vespa. 

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