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Will You Be a Childsick Camper's Parent?

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You've packed your children off to camp for a couple of weeks, maybe the entire summer. Looking forward to enjoying a lifestyle that doesn't revolve solely around your kids. No more carpooling. No fighting commuter traffic to get to her afterschool program before it closes. No daily checking to see if homework's been done. It's time to make leisurely lunch and dinner dates with friends. Get reacquainted with your spouse. Catch up on your pleasure reading.

And then, several days into their first week away it hits you. Catching you totally off guard. It's too quiet in the house, much too quiet. You're feeling blue... and lonely. You miss your kids a lot. You're childsick!

No just wait a "summertime-and-the-livin'-is-easy" minute. What's wrong, very wrong with this picture? Your children are supposed to enjoy camp but get homesick every now and then, revealing this in touching letters, emails, phone calls, and especially on visiting day. That's the perfect combination -- a memorable, "I-can't-wait-to-go-back" camping experience, garnished with a healthy dose of "I miss you" homesickness.

You miss them. Of course you do. You love your kids. But you're feeling surprisingly disconnected, disoriented, and a tad melancholy. What's the cure? You can't stumble about like this for another month or two. You can't risk breaking down again when food shopping brings you face to face with her favorite oatmeal cookies in aisle 8. Being this childsick can't be healthy. Your childless sister, the social worker, has been telling you for years that you're far too "invested" in your kids' lives, that they have become your life.

Take several, slow cleansing breaths. There's no cure needed when there's no disease. Your childsickness is a reminder of how deeply connected you are to your children, be they eight or fifteen. They contribute greatly to your overall feelings of happiness and well-being. Your children breathe a lively, dancing rhythm (albeit frenzied at times) and energy into your family's life. They may tire, perplex, and frustrate you, but they also make you feel needed and more alive.

Commiserate with friends who are going through similar camping separations. You'll find more parents than you'd expect who will admit to feeling childsick. Be careful that your camp letters and calls don't make your kids feel guilty and sad. It's fine to tell them they are missed, to keep them informed of family news and to tell them that you're looking forward to all their tales and adventures when they return. But keep your communications with them focused on their life at camp, not how much you and the family dog miss them.

Visiting days often leave children emotionally upset because of their parents' clingy, "get-the-defibrillator" farewells. Overwrought, dramatic, visiting day departures are debilitating for your campers, leaving them potentially conflicted about the remainder of their stay at camp. Do your best to make sure that your goodbyes are upbeat and reassuring.

Some degrees of homesickness and childsickness serve as poignant reminders and confirmations of a healthy, parent-child connection. Accepting and appreciating these loving responses just might make you all happy campers.

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