Culture Camp Parenting Challenges

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Being away for a week with our children at culture camp is a real blessing for our family. Still, it is not with it out its challenges. It’s hard for the children to get enough rest, their behavior gets all out of whack, and some influences are less than positive. When you get home the adjustment is also difficult.

I thought I would write about these challenges that our family has experienced going to Harambee. I would love to hear what is coming later in life for us! If you have some pearls of wisdom to share too. And I think it’s also important to share the challenges so that we can be prepared for them and strategize about our parenting approach in unusual circumstances.

The first challenge is the schedule at camp. In the past, we have found that when we had a daily quiet time while staying in the trailer, the girls are way less overstimulated and better slept. Usually that quiet time includes reading, playing quietly with stuffies, or simply having a nap. (Usually the parents are the ones having the nap!)

This year, however, soccer was right after lunch. And although there were no choices to make in the schedule, which was nice, we found that there were no spaces either. So it was very difficult to get out of the action and take a rest. At night, there were teen activities going on until the wee hours. This is awesome for the teens, and I wouldn’t want it any other way for them. That said, our trailer has been parked beside the playing field for the last two years, and getting the kids to bed each night was a huge challenge. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner! But for the last two nights I gave the kids melatonin and that helped immensely to get them to sleep. They also slept in a little later in the morning because the melatonin overwrote the sunshine factor. Note to self for next year.

In any case, rest and sleep were our big issues. Combine that with the extreme heat that we had last week, and I had some very grumpy children for the majority of the week.

Which leads me to my second challenge: extremely challenging behavior. I probably had more backtalk, screaming, tantruming and heaven knows what else last week than I have seen since January. I know it’s a combination of the stimulation, lack of sleep, and too much heat. But holy! The kids were a handful. And this is par for the course each year, give or take a few tantrums. A few friends said to me that this age, 6/7 years old, is particularly challenging. But we do have extreme behavior every camp.

So do you tow the line and expect the same reasonable behaviour from your children, camp or no camp!? Or, do we say that these are exceptional circumstances and allow more exceptional behavior. hmmmm… I know that we were very understanding and patient for the beginning of this past week, but it was only near the end that week, when we gave the girls a serious talking to, that the behavior started to turn more normal. I think next time we will show empathy and understanding for the heat sleep issues. But the screaming at me and two-year-old tantrums… We let that go on too far. Next year, I think we will have to clamp down on that beginning. It just became a way too difficult week for me. I can’t really say that I enjoyed the whole thing, because I was getting so much grief from the kids. (Perhaps from the overtired, overheated husband as well…!)

One of the most positive things about culture camp is the girls making new friends, hanging out with other children of color, and seeing all the older girls and boys. This has a flipside though. There is a lot of peer pressure at camp. We don’t have teenagers yet, so keep this in relative context. But different parents have different rules and it can be difficult to tell your child “these are the rules because this is the way we do it in our family,” when their friends have different rules of engagement. There are also more subtle things… A benign example is hair. I really don’t like color in the girls’ hair, but since all that other little girls have color in their hair, well then, mine end up having colour in their hair as well.

Obviously this isn’t a big challenge, it’s just something that we have to navigate over and over again. And we find ourselves adapting our way of doing things to fit in with the social norm. Which isn’t entirely bad thing either! It’s just a challenge to figure out what is important for them to have in common with their peers, and what is not.

The last challenge is adapting back to life at home. For example, life is pretty free and easy for the six, going-on-seven year old girl at camp. The girls are not allowed to go on the paved vehicle road, but they basically wander all day long from cabin to cabin, from RV to RV. The dirt roads throughout the camp are safe and we trust in our neighbors to keep the kids safe. So they wander.

When we get back home, however, things are different. There are cars on our street. Fast ones. And we actually don’t know all of our neighbors that well. So we ask the girls to stay in our yard, and they must ask permission before they go to somebody else’s house. And there really aren’t as many places for them to go as the endless supply of friends’ cabins at camp. When we got back this weekend, the girls started biking on our street and running around out of the yard, despite the reminders. We got a lot of protest when we put the rules back in place. But camp is camp. And home is home.

I would love to hear what challenges do you have encountered with your kids in the camp experience. It’s going to share these ideas so that we can be a little better prepared for these unusual situations. Do you sweat the small stuff? What do you go with the flow on, and put your down for?

Of course it’s all worth it! I don’t want to make it sound any other way. We love going to camp and it’s a huge blessing for our family. That said, part of growing is overcoming challenges. And I certainly do a lot of growing as a parent at camp…

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