Free-range parenting. Slow parenting. Replicating childhood summers of the ’70s. Loosey-goosey is all the rage now. It’s enough to make the rest of us start to second-guess our decisions and wonder if we are overparenting our kids.
Last year, I wrote a post about sending my son off to sleepaway camp for seven weeks. I thought it was a lighthearted, humorous look at how neurotic I was about his first time being away from home for an extended period of time. Though some readers enjoyed the piece, others weren’t so enthusiastic. And I was totally unprepared for the Sanctimommies judging me for my choice of summer plans: “You’re crazy!” “You’ll never get this time back!” “How could anyone send their kids away for two months?” “That’s terrible! Summer is for families to go do stuff … together!” “They’re only young once and it goes so fast!” The comments implied that I sent him off so I could have a relaxing summer. Nothing could be further from the truth. The decision (and expense) of overnight camp was not something that came without much stress and agony over whether this was the right choice.
I work. My husband works. I love suggestions like “doing chores in the morning followed by family trips to the beach,” but I can really only enforce that during the one week of vacation I am able to take in the summer. Could I have quit my job, homeschooled my kids and given them a summer of free play? Sure, but I didn’t. So get off my jock.
My son needs to be busy. As in having-a-catch-with-someone-24/7-busy. Unscheduled doesn’t work for my child. Could I have signed him up for weekly sports camps to cover the 13 weeks he is out of school? Sure. I could’ve moved to a commune too, but I didn’t. So get off my jock.
My son needed to gain independence. He needed to learn how to navigate amongst his peers, to find his own voice. To make decisions without me standing over his shoulder, yelling “slow down” and “watch out.” Could I have tried to instill independence through other means? Sure, but I didn’t. So get off my jock.
My son needed nature. We live in a big city. He can’t wander off into the woods to explore, nor can he lie in a grassy field and stare at the starry sky. Could I have taken him camping for a few weekends? Sure. But I saw The Blair Witch Project, so … no. So get off my jock.
My son needed a break from technology. He went two months without a phone, an iPad, or a TV. Could I have taken all those away at home, and imposed a no-electronics policy? Sure, but I didn’t. So get off my jock.
You know what the above list is all about? My son’s needs. They may be different than your child’s. Our family dynamic may be different than yours. But just like you, I make decisions in the best interest of my child. And for my child, a structured, extended period of time away from home made sense. And it worked — he had an amazing summer.
He swam in a lake every day and camped in teepees. My son began the summer as a shy, hesitant kid, not one to get rallied up about much of anything other than baseball. Within weeks, I saw photos of him playing soccer in the rain until he was covered in mud and then running off the field with his arms draped around his teammates in victory. He painted his face for color war and screamed chants in the dining hall until he was hoarse. He gained resilience and confidence and became more self-sufficient. He learned how to approach kids he doesn’t know and arrange a pickup game of basketball. He had freedom to explore in a safe environment that let him grow.
Families’ decisions are constricted by economics, work schedules and their children’s personalities. So let’s stop fighting over parenting styles and embrace the fact that just like every child is different, every decision about how they spend their summer is different. Ours was sleepaway camp, and he’ll be back again this year.
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