Posted  | by Lindsey Mead |

Guest post by Lindsey Mead, parent of campers at ACA Accredited Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, MA. Re-posted with permission from Lindsey's blog, A Design So Vast

By way of introduction to this guest post from a parent's perspective, we encourage families to acknowledge and discuss as appropriate the emotions that come along with going off to camp, especially when it involves staying at an overnight camp for a period of weeks. Separating can be difficult to do, but it's very beneficial to both campers and families. Camp experiences contribute mightily to children's optimal growth and development; camps take great pride in partnering with families to help raise children. Within the summer camp field, there's considerable study, attention and dialogue around supporting the separation necessary for a child to attend overnight camp. We have an entire team of camp psychologists who formally prepare and advise both families and camp professionals in preventing and handling homesickness and in how to set children up for success as they live away from home for lengths of time ranging from half a week to an entire summer. It's emotionally intense for all involved—the camper, the family, and the camp counseling staff. And it's well worth the independence, adventure, autonomy, new life skills and ability to make transitions afforded young people by the intentional experiences overnight camps offer. Scroll down for our recommended resources on setting up camp age children for healthy separation. We're pleased to offer words from a guest blogger who provides the perspective of an honest and experienced camper parent.

Excited and sad at the same time. Always. The goodbyes and the hellos keep coming fast and furious, inextricably wound together.

Last Thursday we dropped Grace and Whit at camp for 3.5 weeks.  This is her 5th summer and his 3rd.  I know, I know, I’m a broken record, but seriously?  It feels like we just took her for her first summer a week ago, so how is this possible?  As usual, I drove away in tears, and as usual, my heart was heavy for days after leaving them at camp.  Not because I doubt they’ll have fun, not because I worry about their safety or joy while away from me.  Not at all because of other of those.  Not even specifically because I’ll miss them, though I will.

But, mostly, the sorrow is due to the realization that I am already here, already at this point teetering on the edge of something very new and very scary, already at the day that many more years with children at home flutter behind me, like prayer flags in the wind, than do ahead of me.

Grace was weepy at drop off.  Truthfully, it was the hardest camp goodbye yet.  Well, maybe not harder than the first time, when she was 8.  But I was a bit taken aback by how sad she was, and by how hard it was to walk away.  Part of that was because we were early and many of her friends hadn’t arrived yet.  Part of it was just because she seemed to be in a cabin without counselors she knew.  And part of it is probably just because of this particular moment in life, which is marked by closeness and intimacy which both makes me anxious (should I worry?) and glad (I am grateful for our bond).

Within 24 hours I had decided, though, that it’s all fine.  Maybe it is better this way.  Perhaps the benefit of camp is not in spite of her finding it challenging this year but because of it.  That was quite a flip of attitude for me and it felt like something heavy had been lifted.  Yes.  Precisely this: the discomfort may be what makes it so valuable.  The uneasiness and tears speak to the growth.

On Tuesday night before we left, I tucked Whit in. He was quiet and visibly wistful. I flicked the light off and climbed into his narrow bed next to him and whispered, “It’s almost time for camp. How do you feel about that?  Excited?  Sad?”  He swallowed and, staring up at the slats of the bunk above him, said quietly, “Both.” I looked at his profile in the faint glow of the Bruins zamboni night light Grace gave him for Christmas, and it occurred to me that’s how I feel about camp too.  And, actually, it’s how I feel about every new vista of this parenting journey.  It’s how I feel about life itself: excited and sad at the same time.

Excited and sad at the same time.  Always.  The goodbyes and the hellos keep coming fast and furious, inextricably wound together.

Photo credits: Top, left: ACA Accredited Camp Howe, Goshen, MA and bottom, right: ACA Accredited Chewonki Camp for Boys, Wiscasset, ME

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES on homesickness and separation for campers and families. The professionals in New England's summer camp world are focused on providing resources for anyone who might experience difficulty with the transition to camp whether they're campers, camp staff, or parents and family members! Michael Thompson, Chris Thurber, and Bob Ditter are all frequent presenters  at our annual conference and other educational events for camp professionals. Each also provides workshops and advice to parents and schools. Louise Fritts writes from experience that years of leadership directing an ACA Accredited camp afford; her recent article was published in CAMPING magazine.

I'll Be OK Without You by Bob Ditter, LICSW 

Homesick and Happy
 by Michael Thompson, Ph. D. 

The Summer Camp Handbook by Dr. Chris Thurber

Homesickness - It isn't just for campers by Louise Fritts, Director, 
ACA Accredited Camp Arcadia in Casco, ME