The bad thing about homesickness is that most of us suffer from it sometime or other in our life. The good thing about homesickness is that I’ve never heard of it being fatal.
As homesickness relates to camp, it is much more prevalent among parents than campers. You read that right: parents miss their children more than the children miss parents.
That was a difficult lesson for me as a mom to accept! Yet experts have written on the subject for years.
Another factoid an older friend told me over 50 years ago: the earlier one experiences and defeats homesickness, the healthier one is. She used her oldest child as an example when I questioned her rationale. ‘Nancy is the only one of her friends who did not return home after the first semester of college. She was the only one who had gone to camp.’ She used other examples of girls getting married who had never been away from home; boys going into the service who had not been away, etc. She emphasized to me that camp prepared one for life and as a parent you had to encourage the separation.
But what do you do as a parent when you get a homesick letter? I suggest first trying to read between the lines. Many a camper has told me ‘if I don’t write that I am homesick, it hurts my mother’s feelings/she gets mad, etc., Kathy. I am not homesick but I have to write her that I am.” Some are written to appease parents but some homesickness is genuine. If you are concerned, call or email us at camp. If it is a senior side boy, email Cody (firstname.lastname@example.org) or a junior side camper, email George (email@example.com). You can call and leave a message with Mike, Monica or Cat for either Cody or George to check on your son and get back to you.
I can assure you that they will thoroughly check the situation and get back to you as soon as they can! We watch faces but we know some boys can hide their emotions and for some it only erupts after lights out. Homesickness can be caused by not feeling good, not wanting to participate, having one’s feelings hurt, not liking the food, etc., etc. Like you, we want your camper 100% happy, so never hesitate to call us with a concern or feedback.
Homesickness is cured more quickly when we are working together.
How do you respond when you get such a letter? You reassure them you love them. You write that you understand how he/she feels: that you miss them, too, but you know that homesickness is temporary and that they will have such a great time once they get past that and you cannot wait to hear of their new friends and the things they have done. Don’t tell them how the dog/cat/etc misses them or how sad the house is with them gone! Don’t tell them exciting things about the neighborhood or a trip they are missing! Write of mundane things. A mom today mentioned the heat in their hometown: talk of the weather is always boring to kids!
If you keep getting the same unhappy letters, call camp! Boys get in a rut and they will write the same thing every day…it is easier than thinking. I know: Si & I got the most pitiful letters from a young Jeeper at boarding school: each one said the same thing – how sad he was and how he missed us.
I’d call the school and the secretary would say “I’ve never seen him without a smile” so I knew he was not too miserable. After a few months I took the same action I had encouraged camp moms to take.
“Jeeper, you know those letters you write us every day?” “Yes” he replied. “Well, I find them insulting to us both. You made the decision to go to school and if you can’t write me a better letter, don’t write.” “Okay.”
The letters changed. For the rest of the year it was “Dear Mom and Dad, I can’t wait until Friday.”
Letting go of your children is hard. I still remember how depressed Si & I were when Jeeper went off to boarding school at age 11 and I know many of you are suffering with your child away.
Mothers seem to have an especially hard time letting their sons go (likewise Dads with daughters) and yet if we don’t let them go and develop self-reliance, we are doing them an injustice. We want to protect them from any slight or hurt, and yet it is the failures that build character and teach the lessons that make one great and resilient. We have to be strong and selfless to make them strong and capable young men.
We also have to teach them to finish what they start.
What about the homesick parent? Stewart does its best to provide comfort through the daily posting of photos and blogs/updates. I can assure you that the photographers (3) do their very best to get shots of each camper every day, but that is often difficult. Some campers avoid the camera like the plaque; others gravitate towards it. Older campers are often far afield on camp and very hard to track down. Photographers are challenged! Just know we try, even though we don’t always succeed!
Meghan (Murray), Conor’s wife, has been busy on Twitter, Insta-gram and Facebook, along with Cody and Conor, posting lots of information to keep parents ‘in the know’ and feeling connected. In this day of instant communication, maybe it’s too much. Maybe parents need some ‘tech free time’ like the campers!
When I look back 50 summers, when boys came for 6 weeks, and recall that snail mail was the only communication, and for those parents in Mexico or Europe letters often took 5 weeks to arrive, I marvel at the strength of the parents. Mail call was very important then – but yet it was often sad for the international campers as they got nothing.
But there were ‘helicopter parents then too. We just called them over-protective. They would call daily (and phone connections were not very good back then!) to make sure all was well. Thinking of the faith parents had to have in the camps almost a hundred years ago – not to mention my fifty – makes me feel I could have learned from them than I did.
Uncle Bill (James, owner from 1929-1966) told me of telling the mother of an only child, who was homesick, “Well, if you want a momma’s boy to live with you the rest of your life, take him home. If you want him to grow up to be a man to be proud of, leave him here and let him get some scrapes and bruises. He’ll be the better for it.” (That boy stayed at camp and later sent grandsons!)
Today a camp director might think that but I dare say most of us would not have the intestinal fortitude to say it, yet many a former camper returns and says “the best thing that ever happened to me was not being allowed to go home when I got homesick, but being told I had to finish what I started.”
Homesickness – or separation anxiety – is painful for all concerned when it happens but it seems to be a vital part of growing up – and developing self-reliance and independence.
We’ll do our best to do our part to help with any that happens on our watch.