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My Kid is Ready for Sleepaway Camp. But I'm Not.

My Kid is Ready for Sleepaway Camp. But I’m Not.

By Kelcey Kintner

I’ve been hearing about sleepaway camp for as long as I’ve known my husband. I’m pretty sure it came up on our first date. Why? Because my husband describes it as the defining experience of his childhood.

He believes it allowed him to grow and change in ways that would never have been possible without those 4 weeks away from home every summer. As he describes it – at summer camp, he wasn’t defined by school labels or parental oversight. He could be anything he wanted to be.

My husband wasn’t even satisfied just being a camper. He went on to be a CIT (counselor in training) and then a counselor. In fact, if it was possible, I’m pretty sure he’d still be up there in the Poconos participating in Color Wars.

The way he describes it, it sounds like more than a summer camp. It sounds like a cult. A happy, sunny cult. As a kid, I was a day summer camper. I liked camp alright (especially the creative artsy ones) but it was hot. Kind of buggy. And I was a shy kid. At the end of the day, I was happy to go home.

Which is why the issue of sleepaway camp has alway been a thorny issue for us.

Of course, he wants our children to go! He wants them to have the same incredible experience he did. Which totally make sense.

But I am very hesitant. First of all, I don’t like the idea of my kids being away so long. Gosh, I’m happy when they return from a one night sleepover! I like to know they are home at night, tucked safely and soundly in their beds. Does that make me a control freak? I don’t know. Maybe.

But I’ve seen many parents who have sent their kids away for the summer and I’ve witnessed a lot of crying. From the moms and the dads. They don’t regret the decision but they are severely pained by the experience of missing their children.

Also, the cost. Sleepaway camp can be quite expensive and I’d rather spend that kind of money as a family. In Europe. Or some other cool trip. Instead of spending every night, while my kid is at summer camp, weeping and desperately searching the camp website for a fuzzy picture of my child. Is that their elbow? Do they look happy? Do their teeth look brushed?

So I was always kind of relieved that my children hadn’t shown much interest in sleepaway camp. Until this year. My 11 year old knows many kids that do go away during the summer and now she wants to be a part of it.

I think this desire to go is important and one of the big signs that it’s certainly time to consider sleepaway camp. (We discuss others in this Alpha Mom piece.) My tween is very independent and longs to have more freedom. She sees camp as her ticket out of here.

But I don’t want her to go. Maybe it’s selfish. But I don’t.

So where does that leave us as a family? A bit stuck.

But we have found a possible compromise. Down where we live in South Florida, there are summer camps where you spend five days a week at an overnight camp and then come home on the weekends. And it’s somewhat affordable. I floated the idea with my daughter.

“But why would I want to come home on weekends?” she asked.

“Because your family loves you. And we want to see you,” I explained.

She considered this and said she was open to the idea.

So am I.

Would I miss her? Yes. Oh my gosh, yes. Would I work hard at letting her go? Yes.

Maybe we might be figuring this out after all.

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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  • Christy

    March 31, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Maybe it’s different in the states, I’m not sure? But here there are LOTS of overnight camps that are like a week or two long. Sure you CAN go for a month or more, but…yeah, that’s a long time. I’m with you; I LIKE summer with my kids. Also, dollars. My oldest did a week at a camp (ranch) last summer. She was 8 and she LOVED it. She had a blast; she grew in confidence…it was amazing. But a week was plenty :-P. Especially when you are the one at home using nothing but the power of your brain to keep her from getting trampled by a horse. (Insert catastrophe of choice here). This summer there was no question that she would go back…but (somewhat to my alarm) my FIVE year old son is going too. He will be six by the time he goes but AEEIIIII. That feels SO. YOUNG. But he DESPERATELY wanted to go too; we’ve got some context for it now (it’s safe; it’s fun; we trust them; etc.). So….we’re letting him fly. Just a little bit. But only for the week (while his big sister is there too) because TOO LONG TOO LONG. 🙂 Good luck…

    • Kate

      April 10, 2016 at 10:56 am

      We only ever did Girl Scout Camp and it was always just 6 days. You arrived Sunday afternoon and left Saturday morning. One summer there was an option to stay one weekend (at an additional cost) if you were signed up for a camp session on either side of that weekend and we stayed for 2 weeks in a row but that was it. 

  • Jennifer B

    March 31, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    You summed up the differences between my husband and I perfectly. I never went to overnight camp – we lived overseas when I was the right age and it just wasn’t available. Plus my military family couldn’t afford those things then.

    My husband loved his camp experiences and wanted our daughter to do the same.

    Our compromise has been one week camps – last year was the first she didn’t do a traditional camp (out in the woods) but she seems happy to come home at the end of the week.

    Now, as a teenager, she goes (by choice) to an academic camp held on a university campus – 3 classes per day, sleep in the dorms, fun activities in the afternoons. If only it were (a bit) closer to home – that 5 hour drive each way is killer!

  • Jenny

    March 31, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    I went to overnight camp every summer for a week from 4th to 11th grade.  It was a rustic, sleep in a tent, cook most of your meals, hike a lot kind of camp.

    And it was the best thing my parents ever did for me.  I got used to being away from home (which as a shy kid was a great thing).  But most importantly, I got used to things not being exactly the way that I want them.  I got used to dealing with less than ideal people and situations.  I realized that things don’t need to be perfect. Basically, I learned how to deal.

    My parents have 5 kids and we figured that they sent kids to camp for a more than 40 weeks and spent probably close to $20,000.  I’m so glad they did.

  • Megan

    April 1, 2016 at 7:25 am

    My shy 11 year old will head off for her first sleep away camp. It’s a 5 night first timers deal & her best buddy is also going. She was the one who researched & suggested it so I too figured she was ready. Not sure I am, but I am very excited for her!

  • Rachel

    April 1, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I LOVED overnight camp as a kid, I went starting around 5th grade and eventually became a “junior staffer” in high school.  I never understood the kids who got homesick – I loved my home and my parents but I was very independent and enjoyed being away and having new adventures.  The camp I went to (small Lutheran church camp) was generally 1 week long, I don’t remember them even offering 2+ week sessions.  Four weeks seems like a REALLY long time at least at first.  I’d start with a weekend or weeklong camp if it was my kid (who’s not even 2, so I still have plenty of time to figure it out).

  • Kay

    April 1, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    The best parenting advice my (amazing, remarkable, can-I-some-day-please-be-just-a-little-more-like-her) mom ever gave me is that you are raising them to go out in the world. If you do this well, they will always come back, gratefully. LOVE your blog, but sounds a little bit like you are thinking about what you want/need more than what your kids do.

  • K

    April 2, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    I’m with another commenter – being away from home base was a great experience for me as a kid – mostly because I got to learn how to get along with and enjoy folks that I maybe wouldn’t have wanted to work so hard to get along with if I had knew I got to go home at the end of the day. I don’t know that my parents ever cried while I was away. I have a four year old now, and I have to say – seeing him be independent is one of the most rewarding parts of being a parent for me. I love that he doesn’t “need” me as much, and that he feels confident that I will always be there whether I’m physically there to guide his experiences or not. Not all kids are the same – I think summer camp is not as great for some as for others, but I’m excited to send ours away for a week or two when the time comes. I can’t wait to see how he flourishes when he’s “on his own” 🙂

  • Shelley

    April 7, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    As a single parent of an only child, I couldn’t wait to pack my kid off for 5 weeks every summer. I looked forward to it every year.  So did my daughter.  I would even tell my mother from out of state not to come during those weeks.  It was bliss! I think she was homesick the first day or two the first time.  But after that she loved it.  She came back so independent after that first summer.  She was pretty clingy before that. She grew up a lot.  She went every year until she was fifteen or sixteen. When she went off to college (ok only 80 miles away) neither of us blinked. I  hardly heard from her those years. Be we were always close and remain so.  She’ 24.  Send them away.  It’s good for both of you.

  • Rachel

    July 5, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Totally relate. How did it go?

  • Pam

    September 9, 2017 at 2:08 am

    What was the camp mentioned in the post? I cannot seem to find any sleep away camps that are somewhat affordable!