“Dear Mommy and Daddy, Now I only cry at night. I miss you so much that it hurts inside of me.”
That was one of the letters that I sent to my parents during my first summer at sleep-away camp. Clearly I was a homesick camper, and I missed home dreadfully. As a child, I wrote exactly what I was feeling to my parents and in the moment that I was writing to them I must have felt extreme longing for them. I often wonder what stopped my parents from getting into their car and immediately rescuing me from camp when they received my homesick letters. I am glad that they didn’t come and take me home because learning to navigate my homesick moments at camp made me a stronger and more resilient camper.
Fast forward to today, I am now the mother of campers, and I am amongst the millions of other parents who wait anxiously by the mail box for news from our children when they are away at camp. Getting a letter from our children when they are away is a very exciting moment. After all, we send our children to camp, and aside from the photos that we see on the websites we are disconnected from the day to day conversations with them. So, when the mailman drops the first letter from camp into our mailbox, it is a much anticipated event.
As a parent, I am always hoping for a newsy letter which provides me with a glimpse of camp life according to my daughter. Some letters can be short and sweet, others can hold tons of information, but in general I always hope that the letters are happy and positive. If the tone of the letter is one of fun and cheer, then as a parent I feel a sense of relief.
Kids write things like “I miss you so much that my heart aches” or “ I am counting the days until I get to see you” or my personal best, “Now I only cry at night.”
These are the letters that are the hardest to read and often leave parents with feelings of panic and heartache.
So how can we as parents survive the homesick letters that we may get from our children?
And why are we always shocked by the notion that our children may feel some homesickness when they are away at summer camp?
The truth is that feelings of homesickness are very normal and are to be expected by many kids as they navigate their journey away from home. Every experience is different for every child. Some feel homesick during the start of their first summer away, while others have feelings of homesickness for the entire time that they are away. There is no magic formula for how a child may feel, but parents need to be prepared for the possibility of some sad words in their children’s letters.
When children sit down to write letters at camp, it is often during quiet moments – these are the moments when they are able to reflect upon what has been going on as well as what they may be missing at home. These are moments when they think about the good and bad and they often choose to share it all with us in their letters.
So what can we, as parents, do if we receive either a homesick letter or a letter that has a negative tone to it?
For starters, no matter how homesick the letter sounds, DO NOT get into your car and drive to camp to rescue your child!
Parents need to trust that if there is a major problem with homesickness the camp will call and inform them. Camp directors are skilled in the art of helping homesick campers and will communicate any major problems to parents. Secondly, I always think that it’s important to wait until you receive a second letter and see if the tone of that second letter is different. Often the first few days can be harder for some children and that is reflected in what they write. And of course, if you are truly concerned, then call the camp and share your concerns. It’s so important to have open communication with the camp and to share information with them that can help your child to have the most successful time when they are away.
I guess the bottom line is that we have to remember that our kids often miss us as much as we miss them when they are away.
Don’t panic or react impulsively if you receive a sad letter from your child. Instead, take a deep breath, and respond by writing or emailing a letter to your child that is filled with news and good cheer. And if you choose to call the camp to inquire or share details of a letter that you received, do it with the goal of providing the camp with concrete information and asking for some feedback as to what is going on.
Remember, the journey as a parent of a sleep-away camper can be lonely, scary and even sometimes exciting. You are not alone! You are one of the many moms and dads who sit by their mailbox every day waiting for that perfect letter from your child.
Gotta go check the mailbox……..