My sister has been taking her daughter to visit sleepaway camps for the summer. It's her first time and she's never been away from home. My niece is nervous; my sister is anxious. And rightly so. I was, too, when my boys first expressed interest in going off to a faraway camp for the summer. It's a milestone in their young lives and in their parents' lives as well. Your little one's not sleeping at home. No longer under your roof and watchful eyes. You don't know what they're doing every waking moment. It's a giant step forward on the road to their independence. Exciting and nerve-wracking. Sad and sweet. A giant grab bag of mixed emotions.
Having gone through it with all three of my boys I can only say that sleep-away camp is one of greatest gifts a parent can offer their child. Yes, there may be a bit of homesickness for a couple of days. And yes, you may feel riddled with guilt if you get a couple of unhappy postcards or emails in the beginning. But just wait. Give it a little bit of time. Because that homesick feeling goes away very fast and is quickly replaced by fun and friends, adventures and sports, late night stories and inside jokes. Childhood memories and close friendships that will last your kids a lifetime.
Even more important than all of that, however, is the sense of independence that your child experiences. Making choices throughout the day (what to wear, what elective to choose, what to make at arts & crafts, what to eat, what to put in the laundry). Small decisions maybe, but significant nonetheless because they are making them, not you. Forging friendships on their own as opposed to parents organizing their playdates. Working out solutions to any issues or problems they may encounter instead of running to you as they would at home. It's all that good stuff that leads them to independence.
And these days with all the helicoptering and micro-managing that our generation of parents do, camp gives our kids a chance to try out their wings, to break through the protective parental shell and begin to realize the person they were meant to be.
I never tried to raise any Albert Einsteins or Michael Jordans (I couldn't if I tried). I've always shot for just two things in bringing up my kids -- let them be happy and independent. Sleepaway camp goes a long way on both fronts.
Ofer Aronskind is a parent of three teenage boys and is the author of several books of young adult fiction. His first two books -- "Summer Sleep-Away" and "That Same Summer" -- are about camp.