Balancing Leadership and Motherhood Under the Summer Camp Sun

Balancing Leadership and Motherhood Under the Summer Camp Sun

During our recent Moms+ call with The Summer Camp Society, as we connected with new moms, I found myself reminiscing about the days when diapers were my primary concern. Now that my kids are 11 and 13, being a mom to them while also serving as the director of Camp Jamison, where they currently attend, has brought its unique challenges. My partner, Kevin, also works at camp during the session. I'm sharing some insights into this dual role in case anyone else finds themselves in a similar situation. Here are some things I wish I had planned for better before I was in a tricky situation.

Your Kids' Involvement with Camp

I was the founder and director of Camp Jamison before I became a mom. So when I became a mom and my kids came along, I was happy to show them off and introduce them. I fondly remember my youngest in his Pikachu onesie pajamas, running through our dining hall and getting cereal. Everyone was smiling and waving at him, and he giggled while spilling the cereal back to his seat.

When you're living and breathing camp, it's easy for your kids to be involved in the day-to-day. But being involved at camp is a little different than experiencing camp. Which brings us to..

Honoring Your Kids' Camp Experience

Screen Shot 2023-12-19 at 9.59.32 AMHowever, as your kids grow older, I discovered the importance of allowing them to maintain anonymity as the director's kids. This meant refraining from explicitly announcing or mentioning them in my opening speech.

During one summer, I gave my kids more recognition, wanting them to feel special as they consistently shared me with the camp community. Unfortunately, this approach backfired. Some campers gave them unwanted attention, resulting in behavioral issues I had to address. Upon reflection and understanding of children's dynamics, I realized how to prevent such problems in the future. Now, during the summer, I encourage them to blend in as much as possible with the other campers. While their friends are aware of their identity, new campers often only realize it near the end of the session. In one instance, I led an activity with my son's lodge, using a family example, and he played along, pretending not to know, with the rest of the lodge following suit. His friends, taking cues from him, refrained from pointing it out.

When Your Child Tests the Waters

Naturally, we all hope that our kids will develop a love for camp and embrace positive behavior. Fortunately, both of my children are fond of camp. However, one faces challenges, particularly with aspects like sleeping in the cabin. I confess he receives special treatment. I encourage fellow moms, especially those heavily involved in winter camp preparations, to seek a delicate balance. My son witnesses me regularly extending flexibility to other campers. If making camp a tad easier for him is within my means, I'm all for it—a sentiment aligned with Camp Jamison's philosophy of focusing on the margins so we can include everyone.

However, there are instances when behavior becomes a concern, necessitating consequences. The question arises: will you deliver the result, or will someone else? At Camp Jamison, we adhere to a restorative approach, recognizing that sometimes leading a discussion circle as a parent might not be the most effective. Having other valued staff members ready to step in can prove invaluable. Additionally, consider the scenario where your child upsets a staff member. Now, not only are you the boss, but you're also the concerned mom. Imagine the stress for that staff member. It's crucial to clearly communicate that you're not passing judgment, acknowledging that your child, like everyone else, has unique challenges.

Your Child's Emotional Well-being at Camp

This experience took me completely by surprise. One of my children faced mistreatment at the camp. While we addressed it using our standard procedures, the situation caught me off guard. Handling it as usual, I initially thought I was being objective, but I realized I might have been more lenient, perhaps because I didn't have to call another parent and explain the situation. All I wanted at that moment was to take my daughter home, far away from the camp, to shield her from any harm. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented that immediate reaction; I, being in charge of the entire camp, couldn't take her away, especially since both of her parents were working at camp. After other changes occurred, my daughter chose to stay at camp. Since that incident, I've established a trusted colleague to assist me in case an issue involves my child. Additionally, I now have an emergency contact for her, ensuring she can be picked up swiftly if needed, just as we would for any other camper.

Amidst all these aspects to navigate, being both a mom and a camp director is a role I wouldn't exchange for anything. It brings the joy of providing my kids with incredible friends and mentors and the delight of family time uniquely rich in screen-free adventures. Embracing these positive aspects makes every challenge worthwhile, and we wouldn't have it any other way!

Want to dig in more on parenting at camp?

👉 Check out our Parenting at Camp report!

Jacqueline McDonoughJacqueline McDonough

Executive Director, Camp Jamison
TSCS Member

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