Monday, June 27, 2016

The Bittersweet Sound Of Silence: Sleep-away Camp

Ahhh, the kids are at camp, for two whole, glorious weeks! There is no morning breakfast mess lingering in the kitchen, no shoes to trip over on the tile floor, no television blaring or the onslaught of, "Can we go to the beach? Can my friend come over to play all day and then sleep over? Can you take me to Starbucks?" or, "What's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?" Instead, I hear the occasional sigh from my dog, the chime of my phone or the clunk of the house as it expands during the heat of the day. But mostly, it's silence.

It's most parent's dream--to have a summer sabbatical from their job. Especially if that job entails the full-time daily rearing of their children. Even planning a family summer vacation can have you questioning if the money spent is worth it considering stay-at-home parents take their work with them.We love them, we really do. But if you spend the majority of your time with your children, they can become like a grater on your nerves; the constant back and forth motion peels away your tough skin and leaves you a little raw, a little less tolerant and a little less of the mother (or father) you want to be.

It's hard to send your kids away. Some parents struggle more than others and for many different reasons. I, on the other hand, don't struggle at all. Am I heartless? Do I not love my kids as much as other parents? Am I selfish? No, of course not! I think I'm the opposite and here's why:

1. You may not think so, but kids need time apart from their parents. Yep, they really do! And the more positive the experience they have while apart from their parents, the more likely they are to become successful, independent adults. Kicking a child out of the nest and forcing them to expand their wings will only allow them to fly more confidently when they need to leave.

Too often, I have seen children coddled to the point where the child never learns to do things on their own. Kids go off to college only to come home after the first semester because they don't know how to live on their own. They have never been taught how to forge their own friendships, sleep in new places (without anyone to tuck them in), make their own food choices, or explore who they are as their own, individual person. One can't expect their child to be socially successful away from home if they were never given the tools and opportunities before they start their new journey. Think about it: you wouldn't go on a long, grueling hike without a backpack of supplies. Not only would you bring a backpack of supplies, but you would also make sure you knew how to use the supplies within it. What use are they to you if you don't know how they work? Dying of thirst but don't know how to use the water filter? Hungry, but don't know how to light the stove? Survival is not just about food and water. Survival is about being resourceful, building on past experiences, pushing through the tough stuff, embracing the victories, and knowing you can do it all on your own.

Away camp does this for my kids, as it does for many others. They learn invaluable life skills while they are away from the comforts of home. I am not breathing down their necks, telling them what their next move should be--they are doing it on their own and learning that they are capable of more than they imagined.

2. I love my kids. I have dedicated the last 19 years of my life to them and am proud of who they are becoming. But I don't want to be the only reason they are who they are. In addition to their awesome dad, we have given them unique opportunities to allow them to grow on their own. They were expat children for four years and lived in Seoul, South Korea and Beijing, China. They have learned tough lessons in friendship, what it's like to be a minority, how to communicate when you don't know the language, how to say goodbye, and how to embrace change. In addition, they were given opportunities through their schools to travel without Mom and Dad. They camped by the Great Wall, walked the 6660 steps of Tai'an and watched the sunrise, flew to Shanghai for a sports competition, and flew to Hong Kong to play in the school band at Disneyland. All of these were done without their parents and each time they came home, they beamed with delight as they told us about their adventures. Simply put, I love my kids so much that I want them to learn to be explorers without me holding their hands. I want them to want to leave home--not because they can't stand being with us, but because they are not afraid to take the next step because they already have the tools to go out into the world without crippling fear or a lack of confidence.

3. I'm not selfish, I'm realistic. Every now and then, I need to recharge and spend a little time focusing on myself and those things I neglect while I'm busy with the kids. Writing, reading, sleeping and spending uninterrupted time with my husband and friends often gets put on the back burner more often than it should. It's hard to balance it all, so time apart from the kids gives me the opportunity to just be ME. It also gives me time to miss my kids so when they come home, I can give them more of me for the little time I have left until they leave the nest for good.

There are so many away camps out there today that it would be surprising if you didn't find one to fit your child's interests. The camp my children go to offers dance, watersports, culinary, music, fashion, stunts, acting and more. There are camps specifically designed for kids with disabilities, kids with cancer or kids who have suffered a tragedy such as a death of a parent. There is something for everyone. The earlier you send your kids, the easier separation will be as they get older.

If you're not ready to send your child off to camp, but you want to start nudging them off the ledge, start with sleepovers with friends (make sure you know the parents well to lessen your anxiety as well as your child's) or go away for a weekend and have a grandparent or friend watch them. Separation, no matter how small, will foster your child's independence.

Yes, it's bittersweet with my kids gone because I love them and miss them, but I am also enjoying the silence. Not only can I hear the sigh of the dog or the shift of the house, I can also hear the beating of my heart that beats for my children--to want only the best for them.

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