I knew certain things about sending my kids to camp. I knew they would spend a lot of time outside and they would try new things. I was thrilled they would meet new people and learn more about something they love. They would swim and laugh and stay up way too late.

But after they got home, I realized there were other things, things I couldn’t have imagined would be true. Despite having gone to sleepaway camp as a kid, I somehow didn’t look at it through the same lens. And now, as a mom, I couldn’t hide my surprise at some of what I discovered when they got home. After the bonfire stories and the fun games they played, these are the things I didn’t see coming:

1. They struggled, but it was worth it. I know this isn’t what we want for them, but it’s actually a good thing. Think about a time you had to work really hard for something. A time you failed and tried again. What happened? You learned. You persevered. You became stronger. So, yes, at camp there were struggles. Maybe they didn’t get the top bunk as they wanted or they weren’t able to stand up on the water skis. Maybe they missed home. A lot. But they made a friend who helped them feel less lonely. Whatever the struggle, it was an opportunity for growth they would not have had at home. And that makes the struggle worth it.

2. Speaking of growing, they grew. They left looking like your baby, and somehow they came home looking more grown-up. It doesn’t matter if they were gone the whole summer or two days. Independence makes them grow. (Side note: they are still and will always be your baby.)

3. The hugs are like no other. That last hug and first hug are the best you have had in a long time, especially if you have tweens or teens. The hug right before they leave might feel harder than you imagined, so you hug tight. And when they get back, the simple act of having your arms around them again, well, that’s just magic. Except…

4. They stink. It doesn’t matter if they spent three or more weeks in a cabin. Hygiene is different at camp. But they survived and you can send them right to the shower when they get home.


5. The laundry will surprise you. Somehow all the clothes will smell like damp gym shoes left in a garbage can for a week. This is odd considering the reality is that they wore the same clothes most of the time and didn’t bother to change. General rule: if it went to camp it gets washed. Clothes, sleeping bags, people. It all gets washed.

6. They need sleep. A lot if it. You’re going to want to hear all about their time away. And they will be excited to tell you. For exactly 15 minutes. And then they will fall into a deep sleep, perhaps even sleeping through dinner straight until the next day. There is nothing wrong. They are simply exhausted from their adventures. It’s okay though because you’ll go in and check on them like you did when they were little, brushing back their hair and kissing their forehead.

7. They have friends you don’t know. They met people. They made new friendships. They’ll talk about these people as if you know them and it’s a wonderful thing.

8. Camp store money was the best. And yes, they may have spent it all on candy.

9. They treasured your correspondence. If they don’t remember what you wrote or sent or barely toss a thank you nod your way, that’s okay. They served their purpose: they reminded them you are always there for them and they let you feel more connected. Win-win.

10. There’s a lasting impact. Even if it was “THE BEST EXPERIENCE EVER” and they don’t want it to end, they’re glad to be home. They spent the entire time at camp on go-go-go. Now, they are home and can truly relax. And that feels pretty great for both of you.

— Rebecca Hastings is a former teacher and author. She has been featured on sites such as The Washington Post and Parents.

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