Thursday, July 28, 2011

Kids’ feelings come first

Dear Ella,

My little girl, Emma, is off at overnight camp for the first time. It’s going to be a long summer without her, but she wanted to go so badly I didn’t have the heart to say no. She is only eight, and I thought she should wait at least another year before she attempted sleepover camp.

Visitors’ day is very important to me. The problem is, her dad and I are divorced and we don’t get along. Most of our communication about our daughter is through e-mail or lawyers. We do everything possible to avoid speaking to or seeing each other. He is going to want to see Emma too, and the thought of sharing her with him and his new girlfriend at camp is not something I fancy.

Emma is used to our doing things separately. We celebrate birthdays, holidays and any other special occasion separately, and she has accepted this as normal.

He let me take her to the bus when she left, because he had to work anyway, but we have not even discussed visitors’ day. I’m sure he could care less if I’m there and he will just go, with no regard to my feelings or my daughter’s. This should be a fun time for her, and I don’t want anything to spoil her memory of her first year at overnight camp. Should I take the high road and just let him go?

Lonely Mom

Dear Lonely Mom,

Overnight camp is a milestone in your daughter’s life. It’s a bittersweet time for you, but you put your feelings aside knowing Emma is going to have a wonderful time. At overnight camp she will build independence and social skills, and make new, lifelong friends. It’s a new experience for her, too, so it’s extremely important that her first experience without her parents is a positive one.

If there is the slightest chance that you and your ex will argue, or even give off negative energy, around Emma, then you can’t go to visitors’ day together. Kids pick up on fake smiles and tension in the air. This is her time and you must both put your needs aside.

Staying away on visitors’ day is not the answer. Emma will miss you and want to see her mom as much as her dad. I agree that visiting together may be uncomfortable for all. You are not the only divorced family at camp, and many camps have adjusted and added a second day. If Emma’s camp is not one of those, then speak to the camp director, and he/she will accommodate your situation.

The next hurdle is who gets the “real” visitors’ day and who gets the extra day that has been allocated for Emma. Visitors’ day is not always easy on kids, and some camps with a shorter duration have eliminated this tradition. Two days could cause emotional feelings twice. You might consider splitting up the day so that one of you is with her in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

You and your ex have some choices to make. Whatever you decide, remember you must do what’s best for Emma. Your priority must be to make sure your daughter is happy in this new life experience.

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