By Richard Bombach
Summer camp is the greatest job in the world, right? Not only do our “offices” often lead us outdoors, but we get to work with servant-minded people, incredible kids, and occasionally for some of us, our spouses.
My wife and I have worked in the camping industry together since 2011. We met at camp, we got engaged at camp, and we had our two kids while working at camp together. We have been extremely lucky to be a part of organizations that embraced a family atmosphere. I honestly love working with my wife. Having a partner that works in the same industry is fantastic because they know how to encourage you in your role - because they, of all people, “get it.” They understand the long hours, the selfless lifestyle, and the 3-month craziness during the summer season. When you have somebody there as your biggest fan, you feel more confident in your role!
For those of you that may be embarking on this journey for your first summer, I would love to offer you some advice to manage your marriage while managing your responsibilities at camp.
My first bit of advice would be to keep an open line of communication with your supervisors. As "camp people", we always want to go above & beyond for our camp; whether it be our supervisors, our staff, our campers, or everybody else we come into contact with. We are the type of people that are okay putting our tasks (and lives) on hold to help somebody else and making their jobs (or lives) easier. We cannot forget to do the same in our marriage. Make sure your marriage comes before work. If you feel like your marriage is taking a back seat to your job, then it's time to sit down with your supervisors and let them know that you need to find a way to focus on your spouse. Maybe it’s something as simple as slipping out before a nightly program to have a date night. As with all of your campers and staff, you need to make sure your spouse feels wanted and loved. Your supervisors won't know unless you bring it up; and your marriage is always worth fighting for.
My second bit of advice would be to separate “church & state.” Let work be work. The first directors I worked for had worked in a camp setting for 42 years. They made a deal that at 9:00pm, they no longer talked about anything pertaining to camp. Set a guideline in your home where you turn off work and enjoy each other's company.
Occasionally, you may have an instance where your spouse comes to you about an issue with a coworker. This can be extremely difficult because you have to realize that they are coming to you specifically as a spouse to be heard rather than as a coworker wanting action. Ask the questions to help manage your marriage and be a supportive spouse, but if action is required, it would be beneficial to bring in a mediator that is a supervisor or HR manager so there is an unbiased participant.
Regardless of your roles within camp, be sure to respect each other's position. Be uplifting to each other and keep the relationship professional. Speak to each other as you would to any other employee. If you wouldn’t ask something of somebody else, don’t ask it of your spouse. At the same time, remember that your marriage is a great opportunity to show your seasonal staff what a great relationship can look like! One of our favorite parts of working together at camp is having the staff be a part of our lives. We love that we get to raise our kids around camp. Find time to have “staff appreciation” at your place with burgers, tv, and relaxation. For those of you that may have spouses as support staff, this allows them feel included and be able to pour into the staff in their own way. Create meaningful relationships with your staff as a family.
With the crazy hours of camp, you have to work together and make sure you set time specifically for each other. If you get days off during the summer together, do something special. These are days where it's easy to do nothing (sleep, laundry, shop for camp necessities) - -but remember to pursue your spouse during these times! You can still do the things that need to happen, but prioritize. Put as much (more) effort into your marriage as you do programming camp for kids.
Marriage is very much like camp. It’s never going to be perfect. You’re going to have to work to make it great every single day. When you go through the motions, something is going to slip by and there can be chaos and a situation that needs attention. But with communication, intentionality, and passion, you can have an extremely successful marriage...and summer!
Richard Bombach is a summer camp director and leader based out of Texas. He is a husband and the father of two daughters. Richard is also a member of The Summer Camp Society, first starting off in our Spring 2018 cohort. He has a degree in Education from Oklahoma State University and is also a cancer assassin. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Lindsey Sigler