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Childsick Parents

What happens when the kids go off to camp and the parents have separation anxiety?

Childsick Parents

The Quiet-House Blues

You've packed your children off to camp for a couple of weeks, maybe the entire summer. Now you can enjoy 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 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!

Wait a "summertime-and-the-livin'-is-easy" minute. This isn't how it's supposed to work. Your children are supposed to enjoy camp but also indicate in their emails, letters, phone calls -- and especially on visiting day -- that they miss you, and get homesick every now and then. That's the perfect combination -- a memorable, "I-can't-wait-to-go-back" camping experience, garnished with a healthy dose of homesickness.

You miss them. Of course you do, you love your kids. But you're feeling disconnected, disoriented, and melancholy. What's the cure? You can't stumble about like this for another month or two. You can't risk breaking down again in front of her favorite Oreo cookies in your local supermarket. Being this childsick can't be healthy. Your childless sister, a 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 a deep, cleansing breath. 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 8 or 15, and of how pivotal they are to your overall feelings of happiness and well-being. Your children breathe a dancing rhythm and energy into your family's life. They may tire, perplex, and frustrate you, but they also make you feel needed and more alive.

It might help to commiserate with friends who are going through similar camping separations. I'm sure that you'll find more parents than you'd expect who will admit to feeling childsick. Be careful that your letters and calls do not make your kids feel guilty and sad that you are missing them so much. 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 stories when they return. But keep your communications with them focused on their life at camp, not your missing them.

Visiting days often leave children emotionally upset because of their parents' sobbing, clingy, "get-the-defibrillator" farewells. Overwrought, dramatic 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.

A healthy amount of homesickness and childsickness serve as poignant reminders and confirmations of the ties that bind families together. Accepting and appreciating these loving responses just might make you all happy campers.

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