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Dropping My Son at Sleepover Camp-What I Learned

If your child is heading into their first sleepover camp experience, here are ten tips from a mom who’s been there.

Dropping My Son at Sleepover Camp-What I Learned

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Some children beg to go to sleepover camp. Others are gently pushed by parents who recall the best summers of their childhood. There are theater camps and sports camps—dance camps and music camps. Some overnight camps are religious, and others cater to children with food allergies. There’s a sleepover camp for every child, and finding the right one means your child will have a community surrounding them.

If your child is heading into their first sleepover camp experience, here are ten tips from a mom who’s been there:

A mother and her first child have a special bond

As we drove down the hill towards the exit, it began to sink in that I’d left my child in an unfamiliar setting, under the care of strangers, and dread consumed me. It was the same overwhelming sense of loss I experienced on my son’s first day of preschool all those years ago.

Every milestone met with my older son has been a hit-or-miss situation. Together, we find our way, not always knowing what’s right or wrong or up or down. With my second child, previous mistakes become lessons that enable us to reach milestones with ease. A mother and her first child are a team. We can do anything together, and for that special bond, I am so grateful.

Our motherly worries are universal

After drop-off, a group text of camp moms commenced. We quickly realized that our motherly worries are universal. For example, we understand that your kiddo who doesn’t love fruits or vegetables finally tried brussel sprouts last week, and now he’s at camp where kids can skip anything green and still get dessert—and lots of it. And we can relate to your concern over the pre-addressed stationery you packed being thrown under the bed and far from thought.

Other moms will be there to catch you as your brain wanders to worse-case scenarios of why he isn’t writing—he’s simply having too much fun! And don’t worry, every mom hopes her camper changes his underwear, brushes his teeth, and cleans his sheets.

two young kids sitting on a log outside looking at a map iStock

Dads are not fazed by drop-off

Camp drop-off confirmed that there’s a biological difference between moms and dads. Drop-off day for dads is all about jealousy with none of the worry. They wish they could stay for zip-lining, swimming, buffet-style burgers and fried chicken. Dads live vicariously through their children as moms weep uncontrollably.

We need to push our children through difficult transitions gently

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It’s natural for a mother to be inclined to provide a safety net when her child wonders if he’s ready for something new, but a gentle nudge can give him the confidence he needs to move onward. And after time, the gain will be immense. Overnight camp can lead to increased confidence, social growth, and maturity. We learn to be strong for them because we are their strength when they can’t find their own.

You will miss what usually irritates you

When I noticed life was calm, I started to miss the chaos. When my younger son wasn’t being nudged by his brother, our home felt unbalanced, with less fighting and more peace. His tidy room saddened me as I thought of the mess that typically builds up on his counters—because it reminded me that he was away, and I was unaware of what he was doing and how he was feeling.

Everything that typically frustrates you—from the toilet seat being left up to the attitude when you ask your kiddo to brush his teeth—will be missed because we miss our whole child, even the little things that irritate us.

three kids standing outside looking up and pointing iStock

Leftovers will take over your fridge

Initially, you’ll make the same amount of dinner you typically do. But you’ll quickly realize Junior ate 50 percent of the meal. His absence means you need to adjust your shopping list immensely, but by the time you get it right, he’ll be home. Fear not: Leftover chicken makes an excellent salad topping!

As parents, we gain independence, too

We send our children to sleepover camp for many reasons, but one thing we hope they gain is independence. We want them to come home knowing how to make a bed, remembering to brush their teeth, and with the ability to keep their space organized and clean. But as days pass, you’ll begin to realize you’ve regained your independence, too.

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The pieces of yourself once abandoned to compensate for your child’s needs slowly reenter your life. And while missing your child, you’ll realize you had extra time to spend on you that day.

You’ll miss your kiddo more during certain times of the day

During the middle of the day, when your kiddo is usually at school, you won’t feel his absence as heavily. Mid-day seems like any other time of year, but the mornings and the evenings—not so much. You’ll notice the vacant chair at breakfast and dinner and the empty bed in the evenings. And as you lie in bed at night, you’ll feel his absence because your mom radar is detecting a missing family component. But once he’s been home for 24 hours and his room is as messy as ever, it will feel like he never left.

group of kids playing games at summer camp iStock

A photo app will become your new obsession

Around 9:00 AM—or whenever photos are uploaded to the Campanion app—you’ll eagerly await pictures of your child. You’ll scroll incessantly and zoom in to see his expressions because this is how you remain connected to him while he’s away. And each day, as we eagerly wait for photos of our child, every other camp mom is waiting in anticipation, too—because the single most important goal in our lives is ensuring our children are happy. Seeing his smile will make your day.

Songs will speak to you

The morning after I dropped my son off at sleepover camp for the first time, Alanis Morisette’s Hand In My Pocket came on the radio. I’d already shed my morning allotment of mom misses her baby tears, and as the words floated from the speakers, I couldn’t have been more comforted: “And what it all comes down to- is that everything’s gonna be quite alright.” As that verse repeated, it spoke to me, and I knew that no matter how far away my son was or how much mom anxiety I had, “Everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine.”

When our children leave us for the first time, it can be emotional. But for every moment we worry, they have a moment of growth and excitement. They’re gaining independence, making friendships that will last a lifetime, and embarking on adventures they may otherwise never experience. As my son now says, “There’s no better place than sleepover camp.”

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