I have been an empty nester for about 80 hours, or so. I have sent my kids off, for the first time, to overnight camp. The first day and evening were rough (for me). The house felt incredibly quiet (isn't this what I am always wishing for?!!!!) and I just felt like I had forgotten them somewhere. But, I am settling in to the different routine as the days go by.
However, I am finding one part of overnight camp challenging. Can we talk about camp pictures?
Our camp, and many others these days, post pictures and videos throughout the day. They post them on Facebook, Instagram, on the camp blogs. At the end of the day, you can log on to the camp website and scroll through hundreds of pictures, trying to lay eyes on your precious progeny. I feel like Sherlock Holmes. Is that her ponytail? No, those aren't her shoes. Is that him playing basketball? No, too tall.
When I do spot the kids, I become a mind-reading mom.
If they look happy, I am thrilled. Wow, they are having fun. They love camp. They are going to want to go back for 11 summers like I did. Awesome!
But, in some pictures, they aren't smiling. Some pictures are of kids from their bunks, but my kids aren't there. Are they okay? Do they feel sick? Are they refusing to participate in some life-enhancing activity? What's going on???
This is when being a cognitive-behavioral therapist can really help. We teach our clients all the time that people cannot read minds. Even our own children's minds. Particularly from a photo! If our kids are not smiling in a photo, it can mean lots of different things. They could be unaware that their photo is being taken. They could be concentrating or thinking. And, they could even be having a moment when they are not blissfully happy.
Which leads us to the next lesson....
In CBT, we teach our clients that all emotion is okay. No one is happy every minute of every day. There will be moments that the kids feel sick, or homesick, or tired, or bored (hard to imagine, but....) and these moments will be balanced with giggles, adventure, and fun. This is normal!
I am also learning to sit with the discomfort of not knowing, another lesson I teach my clients. We have not received any letters yet from the kids, so we really don't know how they are doing. That is uncomfortable after having been with these little people every day (with a few exceptions) since they were born. On the flip-side, it is a great experience for kids to have to navigate some bumps in the road themselves. Since we don't know, we can't jump to assistance, meaning they have to rely on themselves and be open to relying on others around them. This is a super life skill, and maybe one that is hard to teach when they are at home, day in and day out!
Please share your thoughts if your kids are away at camp!!!
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.