Though the summer is long gone, and depending where you live, the trees might be changing colors, there may even be snow on the ground – some of the people I meet are still “smarting” from their camp experience. Not the experience their children have had at camp, good or bad, but the pressure they felt about getting their child into the “right camp.”
There is still talk of the money they borrowed to pay for the experience or the pressure put on the grandparents to “help out” so the children can go away to camp. Then there continues to be the incessant talk of visiting day and the expense surrounding it as well as the expectations the parents feel they must meet or their children will be looked down upon. The gas, the tolls, the correct tips, eating out in the right places, bringing the right candy packaged in the newest “in” container are all part of the norms that parents feel they must conform to.
When I discussed this topic with well spouses, their experience was quite different based on necessity. Most could not afford sleep away camp and those that could, were unable to visit on visiting day due not only to expenses, but also due to the responsibilities they had around their sick spouse. I thought the discussion that followed might lend some interesting insights to parents of healthy households. Though born of necessity, the way these well spouses coped with the same pressures might be an inspiration to us all.
Many well spouses cannot afford camp fees. Many in the group I spoke to were teachers who had the summer as their vacation time. Others accumulated their vacation time, taking the bulk of it in the summer when their children were home from school. Saving up respite care for their spouses, they used it now so that they could have fun times with their children.
Some found days of camping or tenting a great and inexpensive way to have family time. Many state and provincial parks have inexpensive campgrounds that are full of amenities like swimming, boating, hiking, berry picking, beautiful bike paths and lakes. Some even have evening programs. And when those are not provided, each campsite usually has a fire pit for sitting around with your kids in the evening telling stories.
Others visited relatives that were fun and lived in places near amusement parks or other attractions. Still others simply went to different parks in their neighborhood every day and just had fun as a family. One well spouse showed me a calendar of suggested daily events her daughter’s school had sent home. It suggested an activity that parents and children could enjoy together for every weekday in the summer. Among them were visits to the zoo and museums, reading and craft time at the local library, making a family mobile, free concerts in the park, topics for story writing, putting on a play, etc.
For the well spouses whose children were able to attend camp because of scholarships, going up on visiting day was not an option, nor was sending exorbitant candy packages or packing designer clothes. One parent told me that she always gave her child the choice. She could go to camp if that was what she wanted, but her parents would not be able to come up to visit nor were designer clothes an option. They simply couldn’t afford it.
She made her child aware that there might be some campers who would see her differently because of that. This well spouse told me that her daughter’s response was that anyone who chose to judge her by those things instead of whom she was, was not someone she wanted as a friend anyway. Proud of her daughter, she attributed her grounded values to her husband’s illness and the inability (even if there was a desire to, which there wasn’t) to conform to the superficial values of some peers.
In the end, the question might well be whose responsibility is it to raise our children? Are we relying on the schools and the camps to do our parenting job for us? Is that why we are so desperate to send our children to the “right” places at any cost as opposed to spending time with them ourselves? Are we so desperate to conform and have our children fit in because we don’t know how to teach them to face the consequences of being different and/or making different choices?
If, by example, we teach our children to conform to what is the popular trend at the moment, whether it’s large candy packages on visiting day, or the right name brand shirts, or eating the right restaurants and having the “in” knapsack, how will they ever cope with a situation that Halacha, safety or even just common sense tells them when they need to act differently than the crowd?
If we haven’t taught them, especially by our own actions, that following the crowd is not always the way to go, if we haven’t taught them to deal with the consequences of making a different choice because a different choice is the right one for them, have we done our job as parents?
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