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10 Surprising Things I Learned After Sending My Child to Camp

‘They left looking like your baby, and somehow they come home looking more grown-up.’

Published on: March 01, 2022


I knew certain things about sending my kids to camp. I knew they would spend a lot of time outside and that they would try new things. I was thrilled they would meet new people and learn more about something they love. They would swim and laugh and stay up way too late. These are the things I knew.

But after they got home, I realized there were other things, things I couldn’t have imagined would be true. Despite having gone to camp as a kid, I somehow forgot or didn’t look at it through the same lens. And now, as a mom, I couldn’t hide my surprise at some of what I discovered when they got back.

Beyond the fun and the lousy food, after the bonfire stories and the silly games they played, these are the things I didn’t see coming. And I’ll start with the hardest one.

  1. They struggled, but it’s worth it. I know this isn’t what we want for them, but it’s actually a good thing. Think about a time you had to work really hard for something. A time you failed and tried again. What happened? You learned. You persevered. You became stronger. So, yes, at camp there was struggle. Maybe they didn’t get the top bunk as they wanted or they weren’t able to stand up on the water skis. Maybe they missed home. A lot. But they made a friend who helped them feel less lonely. Whatever the struggle, it was an opportunity for growth they would not have had at home. And that makes the struggle worth it.
  2. Speaking of growing, they grew! They left looking like your baby, and somehow they come home looking more grown-up. It doesn’t matter if they were gone the whole summer or two days. Independence makes them grow. (Side note: They will still be your baby.)
  3. That last hug and the first hug are the best you have had in a long time, especially if your kiddo is a tween or teen. The hug right before they leave might feel harder than you imagined, so you hug tight. And when they get back, the simple act of having your arms around them again, well, that’s just magic. Except …
  4. They stink. It doesn’t matter if they went to day camp or spent three weeks in a cabin. Hygiene is different at camp. Let’s be real: It’s non-existent. But they survived, and you can send them straight to the shower when they get home.
  5. The laundry will surprise you. Somehow, all the clothes will smell like damp gym shoes left in a garbage can under the hot sun for a week. This is odd considering the reality that they wore the same clothes most of the time and didn’t bother to change. General rule: If it went to camp, it gets washed. Clothes, sleeping bags, people. It all gets washed.
  6. They need sleep. You’re going to want to hear all about it. And they will be excited to tell you. For exactly 15 minutes. And then they will fall into a deep sleep, perhaps even sleeping through dinner and straight on through until the next day. There is nothing wrong: They are simply exhausted from their adventures. It’s okay though, because you’ll go in and check on them like you did when they were little, brushing back their hair and kissing their forehead.
  7. They have friends you don’t know. They met people. They made new friendships. They’ll talk about these people as if you know them. Just play along. It’s easier on everyone.
  8. Camp store money was the best. And yes, they spent it all on candy. They’ll be fine.
  9. Your letters/emails/texts meant more to you than they did to them. If they don’t remember what you wrote or barely toss a thank-you nod your way, those communications served their purpose: They reminded them you are always there for them and they let you feel more connected. Win-win.
  10. Even if it was “the best week ever,” they are glad to be home. They spent the whole week on the go-go-go. Now, they are back to where they are safe and loved and can relax. And that feels pretty great for both of you.

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