Child Free Summer

My daughter and me. Visiting Day at camp.

My daughter and me. Visiting Day at camp.

Forget the child-free v. having kids debate: Sleepaway Camp gives me the best of both worlds.

I’ve always said that the difference between how I love my children, and how I love anyone else in the world is this: if a Mack Truck were careening down the highway headed for either of my kids, I would jump in front of it to save their lives without even thinking about it – no question. If a Mack truck were careening down the highway toward anyone else I love, I’d think. And I’d miss whoever it was. No question.

The recent Time Magazine article  about the Child Free life has set off a big debate about having children. According to Time “The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history. From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which there’s data, the fertility rate declined 9%.” Today, around 1 in 5 American women never have kids. In the 1970’s, it was 1 in 10. And those couples?  They are tired of being oppressed by the breeders.  And they are loving life.  Good for them.

Look, having kids in your life is stressful. You worry about them. They leave their clothes on the floor. You spend lots of time taking care of them instead of yourself. They track mud on the carpet after soccer practice. You spend money on them. They talk back. You’re no longer free to go wherever, whenever.

But then there’s that Mack truck thing. The love you feel for your children is like no other love. Watching your child experience everything for the first time is extraordinary: from their astonishment of discovering that a flower smells nice, to their thrill at that first bite of a cookie, to their pride at losing the training wheels and finding freedom on two wheels. Their triumphs are more important than your own, their failures more painful.

Having children lends a richness and fullness to your life like nothing else.

But still, there is that feeding them, clothing them, schlepping them stuff. And there are the teenaged years, when the soundtrack to your every move is a snort of derision.

That’s where sleep-away camp comes in.

Every summer, for seven weeks, my husband and I live the child free life. We read the paper. We go out to dinner, we see movies. We go to museums and no one complains. We try Ethiopian food and no one asks for chicken nuggets. I never once have to say: put your clothes in the hamper or clean up your room. There’s no schlepping, little cooking, hardly any laundry, and way more sex.

Meanwhile, the kids are having a blast. Color War. Swimming. Canoe trips. Hikes. Arts and Crafts, crummy camp food, late night talks in the bunks, friendships for a lifetime. They’re learning that they can live life without their parents, and still be OK.  They’re making decisions, and gaining independence. They love camp.

But at the end of the seven weeks, I’m ready for them to come home…and so are they. I miss them. I miss those talks that only happen when the lights are out and I’m tucking them in. I miss their enthusiasm. I miss family dinners.

I like my freedom, but I love my kids.

I cannot imagine life without my kids — without our family.  Is  parenting hard?  Sure.  Everything worthwhile is.  Is our family life perfect?  No, but what is?  I wouldn’t give up  my family for anything.  So let others live the child free life all the time. I’m happy with a child free summer, and a child-full rest of the year.


  1. says

    you are so right–I struggle w/this every day…one day having to let go and let my son do this. Right now he isn’t ready and neither am I, yet I hope one day to have some time to myself. I hear a lot of women over the summer talk about how great it is to have their kids home all the time during the summer, I’m thinking, really? I feel like I haven’t seen myself as a person, not just “mom”, in weeks! It’s needed!

    • says

      I have a theory that couples whose kids go to sleepaway camp have a lower divorce rate. It’s based on nothing but a feeling — but it makes sense: you get to spend a few weeks remembering what it’s like to be a couple. Why you got married in the first place. And you don’t wake up when your kids go off to college, look at the person next to you in bed and think “I don’t know this person anymore.”
      My husband and I rediscover each other every summer. It’s better for everyone.

      • says

        When M was alive, I was adamant about a once a week date night. Nothing big, just a quiet dinner at our favorite joint in the east village, kid-free, to be Mikey and Jennie, instead of daddy and mommy. I still remember the excitement I felt, skipping down the street to the metro, every Thursday, feeling like it was our first date.

  2. Lynn Godmilow says

    As a former camper and later as a parent, I can only say that camping (and my family could only afford 2 weeks at girl scout camp each summer) was the best time of the year. Later I had an opportunity to attend an AFSC work camp which had a lasting impression on the direction my life took.
    As a parent, I feel camp is incredibly important. It is the only time in a child’s life that he/she has to make it on their own. There is no mom or dad to intercede when another child bullies etc. Camp is about learning how to be self sufficient, learning to give and take and be responsible for our own actions. A child who has a positive camp experience will have a positive life experience.

  3. says

    Just recently had a three night break without our 4 year old son and it was marvellous! It completely revitalised our marriage. We came away from our weekend having shopped till we dropped, ate out each night and lazy afternoon drinks. This is just something we can’t do with our son. And most importantly, we talked and talked and talked. Seven weeks seems like a really long time but parents needs a break and more importantly we need to bond all over again.

  4. says

    I love this, and I remember our conversation last summer with Rebecca about how much great it is for both kids and parents. Our girls are going away for four weeks this summer and all four of us are super excited about it all: leaving, experiencing camp, and ultimately coming back. I’m excited to see how much they will have grown! (And so excited to have dinner dates, brunch – like at a normal hour, and reading the paper uninterrupted!!) Thank you for the supportive words — needed it when we were making the decision to send them to sleepaway.

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