My Kids Are All Gone, and I Don’t Miss ‘Em

Forty-eight hours. That’s how long I have without one. single. child. in my home requiring food or their missing sandal or an arbiter for sibling warfare or a warm body at which to aim a stream of nonstop chatter. Well, I had forty-eight hours as of 4 p.m. yesterday. I’m already down to 29 hours. Shoot.

Yesterday, we dropped off our oldest and youngest at an Episcopal church camp about an hour away. The oldest, who has gone to camp for six years now, will stay for a whole week, while the youngest is only doing a three-day, two-night “mini camp,” this being his first time. The middle child is off with my parents, who have made a lovely tradition of taking their grandchildren on intergenerational programs run by Road Scholar.

When my kids go away to camp, I don’t send them care packages, letters, or e-mails. I don’t call the camp to make sure they’re okay or stalk the online photos posted on the camp’s Facebook page. From the media stories that pop up every summer (the latest is this New York Times piece about how parents sneakily undermine camps’ “no care packages” rule), I appear to be some sort of rare species of parent who is so grateful to have a child-free house that I would never even think of pestering the hardworking camp staff with my overbearing need to control and know every detail of my kids’ lives.

I don’t miss my children when they’re gone, whether to camp for a week or for school for a day. I experience a momentary sick feeling any time I leave my kids behind somewhere for something more significant than a school day, or when they drive away in someone else’s car for a multi-day adventure I won’t be part of. Having spent the last 13-plus years orienting my time and attention primarily toward keeping three small people happy and healthy, it still feels unnatural and strange to hand them over to other people for days at a time. For a moment, anyway. And then it just feels great, as I realize I can wake up without having to immediately have a conversation with a small one eager to tell me some vital breaking news, and go through an entire day without having to give a fig about anyone else’s teeth, clothes, appetite, or schedule.

With my kids gone, I could do anything I want with my time. While my husband and I did enjoy dinner and a movie last night, and I will likely do some swimming and take in a yoga class, what I most need to do is write to meet some deadlines. To be able to write all the way until dinner time is a rare luxury, and I plan to take full advantage. I’ll be glad to see my kids when they return, but for now, I’m enjoying the silence and have work to do. And I am not convinced that my lack of hyperinvolvement in my kids’ lives, my sheer lack of concern about whether or not I’m allowed to send them a care package, my grateful willingness to let someone else worry about my kids’ whereabouts, meals, and pastimes for a few days, is as unusual as media accounts of modern parenting culture would have us believe.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Tim

    I am so right there with you, Ellen! When the kids are leaving for somewhere I think to myself “Off you go. See you when you get back!”. If they are overseas, I like hearing what’s going on but I don’t keep hitting refresh to see if a new message has come in. When they were the age of your kids, I just figured that they were having adventures that I might or might not hear about once they got back. It’s pretty much the same now.
    Enjoy the time w/out, EPD. I’m looking forward to reading whatever writing you’ve accomplished in their absence.

  • livingtxlife

    I missed the word “don’t” (miss ‘em) and quickly hopped on to give you some grace, but now I see it! My kids are currently gone for 2-3 weeks (depending on the kid) and I DO send care packages. The first year I sent them off to camp, I thought how wonderful it will be for them to consume less sugar for a few weeks. They have corrected my thinking and now I know the “love” they feel from home when they get it from me in the mail. Our camp is also a big “care package” camp and I’m now fascinated by the ones who don’t allow them! Hmm…

    My big change this year is to no longer require them to write me a letter. I used to see it as a way to thank us for sending them things and for the privilege of getting to go to camp. Last year I even sent my son a tootsie roll made to look like dog poop with a card that read “Love, Max ‘Eat at your own Risk’” with the dog’s paw print on there because he hadn’t sent me a letter (he loved it.) Now I’m realizing that by not getting a letter, it means they are busy and happy enough to not need to reach out to us.

    When I first sent my 8 year old son off for two weeks I definitely stalked the camp photo page and fretted about until we got him again. He seemed so little and incapable at home (and two weeks is a long time!) I’m growing to discover that most kids NEED time living on their “own” away from our commands and expectations. Now they see this camp as their real “home” and just deal with us the other 50 weeks of the year until they get back. I’m a lucky Mama.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      I love this take on how camp gives our kids something they need. I completely agree. And I should also clarify that our kids’ camp is not big on care packages largely because most kids only go for one week, at most two weeks. So there’s not enough time for care packages to be needed. And the kids actually LOVE the camp food! I did end up sending my youngest a brief email yesterday, just because it’s his first time there. Besides loving my time without the kids, I love that they have this welcoming community to which they can return every summer.

  • pastordt

    Ah, man, me, too! I was SO excited for my kids to go to school or to camp – for their sakes as well as my own. I loved school, I loved camp and I wanted them to have that fun, too. And pretty much, they did. EVERYBODY needs a break from one another in a family, especially a close family. Good for you for saying it out loud.