An Open Letter to Gwyneth Paltrow About the Magic of Summer Camp
Gwyneth Paltrow is not one of the hundreds of Northeast moms currently stressing about getting their kids' trunks packed up for sleepaway camp. Why? Because she has no plans of sending 12-year-old Apple and 10-year-old Moses away for the summer.
"No, I like them!" she explained during an episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" when the host asked the actress if she was shipping them off. "My parents would send me for eight weeks to camp. If you want to know why I have so many issues, that's why."
Now, I'm pretty sure the mom-of-two was partially joking here, since she then went on to tell Kimmel how much she actually loved the Vermont camp her parents sent her to. But still, I've written a lot about sleepaway camp and so I feel the need to defend it here for a second.
I send both of my kids to sleepaway camp every summer for seven weeks. Yes, SEVEN. And I know it sounds like a long time. But my kids grow in really important ways when they are away from me. Going in, they each had a particular fear they were struggling to overcome. For my daughter, it was separation anxiety; for my son, it was thunderstorms. Being at camp and away from the safety net of home allowed them both to dig deep, face those fears, and overcome them, all while learning how to share a small space, fight their own battles, and get along with others.
Pretty amazing. Oh, and as an added bonus, the camp I send my kids to does not allow any electronics during the entirety of those seven weeks. None. Which means no phone, no television, no DS, no iPad, no Kindle, no Nook, no Xbox, no DVD player, no Netflix, no Wii, no texting, no Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat or any other type of social media. AT ALL.
I'll give you guys a minute to let the prospect of an entire summer spent unplugged sink in. But let me just say this: Worth the price of admission alone.
My daughter started camp when she was 8. She is turning 15 now, which means this will be her last summer as a camper. And to say that she is devastated would be an understatement. The girls in her bunk are more than just lifelong friends, they are her sisters. They are the ones she turns to time and again when she is having problems with her home friends, or fighting with her dad and me, or struggling with something in school.
Before she climbed onto that bus and took off that first summer, my kid had never even slept out for more than a few nights before, let alone almost two entire months. But she accomplished more in those initial seven weeks at camp than she probably ever had in her life. She swam in a lake, competed on a dance team, and made friends with kids from other countries. She learned how to water ski, how to build a rocket, and how to French braid her hair. And she spent her birthday away from her entire family for the first time in her life. Now, seven summers later, there is nowhere else she'd rather celebrate.
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I wrote a blog post at the end of my daughter's first summer that quickly went viral. You can read it here, but the big takeway is this: Being at sleepaway camp gives kids a chance to grow up and try new things away from the watchful eye of their parents. They learn how to navigate life without us for a few weeks, and they get to take ownership of their identities in a way they never have before. The wins and losses and highs and lows they experience at camp? Those are all theirs.
Maybe Gwyneth has forgotten about this part of it?
During the school year leading up to my kid's first summer away, she scored the lead in two of our community plays. But that summer at camp she didn't even make the first round of callbacks. And guess what? She SURVIVED. All. By. Herself. In fact, I didn't even know about it until she finally returned home at the end of the summer. So while I get that the thought of letting go and loosening the reigns for seven weeks may sound scary to the helicopter parent who lies in wait inside all of us—and who will return in full force on Visiting Day—the emotional maturity and independent spirit our kids discover while they are away is the most incredible triumph—and one that belongs solely to them.
So if you really like your kids, Gwyneth, we say go ahead and send them to camp. Roots and wings, baby! Roots and wings.