Guilt. We’ve all experienced it when it comes to our kids, right? It can feel like it’s simply an inescapable part of being a parent, a companion about as welcome as, say, bed bugs, and just as difficult to vanquish.
Perhaps the worst part about parental guilt is that it often attaches itself to some of our greatest pleasures. This includes the joy with which we send our children off to summer camp, assured in the knowledge that they’re about to spend two or three or more weeks in a new and nourishing environment which they love.
But then the questions and comments from other parents, or even friends who don’t have kids, start. You know the ones: “But aren’t you going to miss them?” “I just don’t think I could be away from my kids for that long.” “Don’t your kids miss you?” “I’m sure my child would not be okay being apart from me for that length of time!”
“But aren’t you going to miss them?”
And, okay, sure, maybe passive-aggressiveness at this level shouldn’t bother us, but we’re only human! Plus, for most parents I know, there’s not much that we’re more sensitive about than the well-being of our kids and the quality of the level at which we’re raising them.
I mean, just consider this relatively short list of the seemingly infinite things that I—and many parents I know—feel guilty about when it comes to their kids:
- Not being involved enough with the school PTA
- Ordering Seamless as often as you cook an actual meal
- Knowing that, for you, “cooking an actual meal” often means steaming broccoli and making boxed mac and cheese (it’s, you know, organic, but still)
- Missing their bedtime because you went out to dinner with a friend
- Not knowing the name of their gym teacher/art teacher/math teacher
- Forgetting to bring sunscreen when you spend the first sunny day at the park
- Forgetting to bring snacks
- Forgetting to bring a water bottle or even money to buy water because who remembers to bring cash on a walk through the park (oh. every other parent? cool)
- Being bored at the playground/a Little League game/the second grade ukulele recital
- Pretending to be busy doing “work” on your phone, when really you’re just working on the New York Times crossword
I could go on! But I won’t, because, as I said, this list is basically infinite. It’s also kind of… absurd. Everything listed is something that might induce feelings of guilt, but nothing that would ruin your child’s life or make you deserve the dreaded (imaginary) label of “bad parent.”
It’s funny, really, that even something which we know to be a sign of “good parenting”—i.e. nurturing a love for the arts and fostering independence and extended periods of creativity—can lead to feelings of guilt. It makes some sense when you consider how much our identities as parents are tied into our identities on the whole. And so when we spend a few weeks without our kids, it isn’t just our image of ourselves as parents that needs to be reimagined—it’s our entire image of who we are, period.
It can be difficult to adjust to a guilt-free way of living—believe me, I know.
And this can be scary! Also, guilt-inducing. After spending so many years wrapped up in our identities in relation to someone else, when that person is gone, who do we become?
Um, we become ourselves again—and should do so unapologetically. Which is to say, sleep away camp is a time when parents can partake in all the activities which they might not be able to so easily do with their kids around. Maybe this means taking a weekend—or full week—away. Maybe this means multiple nights out in a row. Maybe this means staying in bed on Sunday morning binge-watching Game of Thrones. The choices are endless, really. And, most importantly, they’re yours.
It can be difficult to adjust to a guilt-free way of living—believe me, I know. It’s unfortunate that modern parenting comes with this particular type of stress. But if your guilt is related to sending your kids off for a few weeks each summer, just pause for a moment and reflect on whether or not this guilt is misplaced. It probably is! Particularly when you know your kids are having a great time without you, and that they’ll have a better time with you when they get back if you’ve actually managed to enjoy their time away.
And really, there’s so much to enjoy without kids around. I mean, may I reiterate: Game of Thrones is coming back soon. No regrets.