life Parenting

Picking My Battles . . .

November 29, 2022

Summer 2023

My two big kids have decided not to return to sleepaway camp this summer.

They most certainly did not have a bad time when they went. Honestly, they seemed to be thriving and I didn’t get a single negative letter. Visiting day was a bit of a debacle (Josh had COVID) but they were proud to show off the campus, from the ropes course to the Gaga ball court.

But Annabel in particular has decided she doesn’t want to go back, and Cameron doesn’t want to go without her, which seems understandable. I struggled with this for a few reasons: a) I had already paid and made a PLAN, kids! PLANS ARE IMPORTANT! b) I did think the experience was a positive one for them. They came back more mature, independent, and confident. Also c) some of my friends who really love camp for their kids felt I should push.

All that said – I did push for a bit, or at least I pushed A to really think about it. And she did, and she doesn’t want to go, and after a brief internal mourning period, I have decided to respect that and move on. So — day camp it is! Ultimately I decided that this is an area where I do think kids deserve some autonomy, and cajoling/pushing/forcing them out the door did not seem right.

I did make them each sign a contract that they would attend day camp without complaint (though I will allow them to weigh in on which ones as long as I don’t have to do 23985 dropoffs), spend time reading and without screens over the summer, and NOT complain about doing a stint with childcare while Josh and I get away for a couple of days.

So, sometimes plans change. At least this particular change will come with a financial benefit. I’m not terribly sad about that! ALSO, I told them they can always revisit sleepaway options in the future. A informed me she might be interested once it is “more like college.” Ha.

In entirely unrelated news . . .

I made this soup (Chicken & Orzo) on Sunday night and the kids went nuts over it. It was seasonally appropriate if you ignore the fact that it was 86F outside while I was making it.

AND, I’m enjoying working on creating my 2023 goals lists. I did a review of 2022 yesterday in prep for our annual BOBW goals episodes and I have to say it was a great year. There were many goals I didn’t achieve entirely or perfectly, but often I came close and that was more than good enough. Good thing I am not a perfectionist 🙂 Life is easier and more enjoyable that way . . .


  • Reply Katherine B November 29, 2022 at 6:27 am

    FWIW, to us here in the UK the whole American summer camp system, particularly for kids the age of your two, is completely alien. Yes summer holidays (only 6 weeks though) and other school holidays are very challenging for working parents here too and there isn’t nearly as much local provision as there should be, but the very idea of sending children that age far away from home for such a long time, however brilliant the camp, is just not something that would even occur to 99% of British parents (forces personnel etc working over seas excepted of course). And you are absolutely right not to push it if A doesn’t want it.

    • Reply Janelle November 29, 2022 at 7:16 am

      Same with in Canada, at least where I’m located. There are a bunch of 5-6 night camps that are popular, but going away for 4 weeks is completely ‘foreign’ to us! I’m sure it exists here somewhere.. but it isn’t common.

      • Reply Grateful Kae November 29, 2022 at 8:03 am

        I’m in the U.S. (midwest) and until Sarah’s kids went to this camp, I had never in my life heard of a kid going to a 4 week long camp before! I remember when she first posted about it I actually thought it was a typo for a second. hahaha. I think it must be a regional or cultural thing in certain areas! 🙂 Where I live the ~1 week long overnight variety is very popular though. (Usually Sunday to Friday)

        To SHU: Did Annabel say why she didn’t want to go? Like was she just not that pumped about the camp itself, was it the distance, or the time away, or would she just rather spend time doing other things, etc??

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 29, 2022 at 9:10 am

          All of the above. And a tiny part of me is happy she WANTS to be at home with her family!

        • Reply Natasha November 29, 2022 at 11:11 am

          Sleepaway camp for a month+ is very popular where I live (New Orleans) – maybe partly to escape to cooler weather? My son went to camp for 5 weeks every summer in the mountains of NC – went every year until it was closed for Covid and now he is 19 and too old. It was such a life changing, positive experience for him. That said, I agree that forcing isn’t the answer. My two girls have never had any desire so spend a summer in the woods, and that’s ok. Although it did complicate childcare a little.

    • Reply Amy November 29, 2022 at 10:37 am

      Is it extremely American for me to point out that I totally associate England with boarding school (even though that’s probably not as common today) and as such, this comment is amusingly ironic!

      • Reply Katherine B November 29, 2022 at 3:52 pm

        Hi Amy, as I’m sure you know IRL boarding school is pretty rare and very expensive in the UK. My niece did her final 2 years at one from 16 to 18 and it was good for her but paid for by the government as her dad, my brother, was in the Royal Navy. Pretty much impossible for almost everyone else, though we do have a lot of fee paying day schools outside the free state system. Those are a sacrifice but one more people feel is worth paying.

        • Reply Amy November 30, 2022 at 7:05 am

          Oh, I know. It’s just that most of my associations come from, like, Enid Blyton books and Ronald Dahl’s memoirs of the early 20th century 😂 I think it’s a good thing that it’s not as common anymore! John Bowlby (psychologist and developer of attachment theory) was himself a product of boarding school and found it informed his theory quite a bit later in life.

    • Reply alyce November 29, 2022 at 2:18 pm

      It’s not that common in the US as multi-week overnight summer camps are $$$$. Most people can’t afford to do it. And then, among the people who can afford it, the kids individual preferences come into play here, much like with SHUs kids.

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 29, 2022 at 4:39 pm

        Yes it is SO expensive. I’m not terribly sad to take that line item out of our YNAB!

  • Reply Amanda November 29, 2022 at 7:09 am

    At least they told you early enough to make other plans for the summer! Agree even if you sort of know they would enjoy it I think it would feel hard to push something like this on kids. Also I am 100% making that soup!

  • Reply Gwinne November 29, 2022 at 7:34 am

    Would a week of overnight camp be a compromise?

    I do hear you on all this. Tiny Boy won’t do overnight camp either and has started protesting some day camp options. He’s old enough to see that most of his peers don’t do camp…. but not the reasons that is possible (more able to play independently, coparenting arrangement, moms who work in the home only, local grandparents etc) I’ve also provided options that I am generally okay with and let him choose among them. Going with a friend seems to be key

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 29, 2022 at 9:10 am

      Maybe! We do have some local options for that … or perhaps special interest shorter camps when they are older.

      • Reply Natasha November 29, 2022 at 12:16 pm

        The Explo program at Yale has great summer options shorter than camp (about 3 weeks) that are great for high-schoolers when your kids are older. My older daughter loved it. The kids stay in dorms and get to choose two courses to take, which is appealing if you have multiple kids going with varied interests.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 29, 2022 at 12:47 pm

          I think that type of thing was what she meant when she said “if it was like college”. Good to know! Laura’s son also attended something similar to this and seemed really happy with it.

        • Reply Laura November 29, 2022 at 6:50 pm

          Yep, my son went to a program at Brown and had a great time

  • Reply Sue November 29, 2022 at 8:36 am

    I think it’s great that you encouraged her to think about it and ultimately let her decide. I definitely struggle with when to push and when not. Although I will say I was a very outgoing and social kid but even I would not have wanted to be away from home that long!
    Also, random, but thanks so much for introducing me to MakseLife. I absolutely love my planner!

  • Reply Lisa of Lisa's Yarns November 29, 2022 at 9:33 am

    It seems like A is pretty mature for her age and she’s getting to an age where she can weigh in on things and you can trust her a bit that she’s not being irrational about not wanting to do something. 4-week camp is also foreign to me but it must be regional/cultural since you know many families who send their kids to camps like this. Hopefully you were able to get your deposit back!!

    That soup looks delicious! I made wild rice soup for my girlfriends for cookie decorating night on Sunday and they loved it! But we are in full on soup weather here. It’s been pretty nice lately but we might get 5-8″ of snow. I can’t believe it’s still in the 80s there, though!!!

  • Reply Amy November 29, 2022 at 10:36 am

    When I was 12 I spent a month away from home during the summer and it was a great experience (I was in Europe with my twin sister, we stayed with relatives) — I think any younger than that and I might have been homesick. This is definitely not a hill to die on! My oldest is hoping to go to camp for 10 days or so this summer, and I think he’ll love it, so we’ll see. I would miss him too much if he were gone for 4 weeks!

  • Reply Dana November 29, 2022 at 10:47 am

    I bet A would enjoy a week of overnight horse camp! That’s popular out west where I live.

    4 weeks is extremely uncommon out here too.

  • Reply Beth November 29, 2022 at 10:48 am

    So interesting! I asked my kids about a week of sleepaway camp and they weren’t interested. I was surprised. My oldest (11 next summer) may change her mind if her friends are going but I doubt my youngest will want to for a few years.

  • Reply Sidra November 29, 2022 at 12:08 pm

    I have been trying to get my daughter, now 11yo, to go to overnight camp. I loved overnight camp and would have gone for the whole summer if my parents would have let me. I think part of the reason my daughter doesn’t want to go is that she is an extremely picky eater; it definitely affects social interactions.

  • Reply Suzanne November 29, 2022 at 1:09 pm

    Oh wow summer camp. This reminds me that I really need to make A Decision and sign up our kid. She is interested in sleep away camp for the first time… although I may not be ready. I love your idea of having the kids sign a contract stipulating how they will behave this summer — genius!

  • Reply Erin November 29, 2022 at 1:25 pm

    The camp thing is so tough. I do have a friend who pushed her kid to go to a camp last summer (only one week, within driving distance) and did have to pick her up because the homesickness was so intense that it was disrupting the other campers… and it’s a super expensive camp too!!

    Re: all those who are surprised by the length of camp – I have heard of it for younger kids but only from my friends who are Jewish! I think it’s extremely common – typically in this region (midwest) it’s 2 weeks starting the summer before 4th grade, up to 4 weeks going into 5th and 6th, and then 8 weeks after that.

    My daughter will be 13 and this will be her first year going to sleepaway camp but just for one week. There are quite a few 2+ week options but we figured we’d start here and see how it goes – she is SUPER excited about it though. We never went before because my kids do a summer-long day camp and they didn’t want to miss any of that.

  • Reply Sara November 29, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Enjoyed reading these comments!
    I grew up in New England and went to a (Jewish) sleepaway camp for four weeks starting around ten but only for a couple years. I then transitioned to the aforementioned Explo (though it was at Wellesley), which I *loved*, while I was pretty MEH about the traditional camp I attended (didn’t love it or hate it).
    I do think going to Jewish sleep away camp is common partly because it gives Jewish kids the experience of being part of the “majority” in a community, which they may not experience in their regular life. Though it can be very expensive, as many have noted.
    My mom went to a Jewish sleepaway camp for 4+ weeks starting when she was six or seven!

  • Reply Alyce November 29, 2022 at 4:17 pm

    It’s definitely better not to push. My husband was forced to go to camp all summer (for many reasons, including the fact that it was a Jewish camp which was important values-wise for the family, and because his three siblings actively wanted to go and, as a result, his stay at home mom also went as a staffer to get reduced tuition costs, and his father has a demanding job and generally would not have had time (or, lets be real, the skills) to care for him if he stayed home). But he hated every minute of it and is still bitter about it to this day. Whereas I always wanted to spend a summer at camp but couldn’t afford to, and want my kid to go (if we can find one that supports her needs) but he’s adamantly opposed…

  • Reply Omdg November 30, 2022 at 6:22 am

    Sarah, Your kids feel like they can say no to you and appear to be able to hold the line while maintaining their composure. That is a huge parenting win! You should be really proud of them and yourself for cultivating such a positive home environment.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger November 30, 2022 at 9:54 am

      Wow did not think of it that way. I think it’s part kid temperament but also thank you!

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