Care and Feeding

I Can’t Believe Where My Husband Wants to Send Our Daughter Next Summer

This has to be a bad idea, right?

A teen girl in hiking gear.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

For 20 or so years, my mother-in-law has worked in an administrative/front office role at a sleep-away summer camp about two hours away. Many of the kids in our city go to this camp, and it’s well known within the “mommy groups” around our neighborhood. Three years ago, our at-the-time 10-year-old daughter “Ruth” wanted to go away to camp. My husband and I were overwhelmed by the number and variety of options once we started looking, and since my mother-in-law was so enthusiastic about the camp she works for—and because she was able to get us a 10 percent discount—we sent Ruth off to her camp.

Well … to put it mildly, Ruth had a bad time. For starters, she was placed in a bunk of girls who had camped together for years and were pretty cliquey. But also, Ruth is an outdoorsy, “hippie” kind of kid. We hoped she’d get to do a ton of outdoorsy stuff—hiking, backpacking, camping out, etc. Instead, the camp’s activities revolved around socializing, makeup, “mixers” with the 10-year-old boys. She opted into outdoor activities when she could, but she was the only kid from her bunk who did so and it made her even more isolated. She was miserable for much of the summer and her self-confidence still has not fully bounced back (of course, this has not been helped by the intervening two years of a pandemic, with its attendant social isolation).

Anyway, we are now thinking about camp for the upcoming summer. My mother-in-law has again offered to provide an employee discount. She says the camp has changed and kids are more “down-to-earth” now. Ruth is adamant that she does not want to return to the camp. My mother-in-law is offended that we are exploring adventure/backpacking-specific camps for Ruth. My husband thinks we should give his mom’s camp another chance because it’s cheaper and he doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. I think this is a ridiculous line of reasoning, and I don’t want to pay $3,000 for my kid to be miserable just so his mom isn’t offended. Do you have any thoughts on the best choice here? I didn’t go to camp at all as a kid, so I don’t really know how to navigate this.

—Camped Out

Dear Camped Out,

I didn’t go to camp either. But I don’t think either of us has to have gone to camp for both of us to acknowledge that you made a mistake three years ago. It makes no sense to send a kid to a camp without first finding out what that experience will entail, discount or not. It makes even less sense to send a kid back to a camp that was a mismatch for her the first time around. In fact, regardless of your MIL’s promises of change, it would be cruel. Which is to say: Your husband is dead wrong about this. And I don’t believe for a second that he’s truly worried about the money—if the two of you can afford to spend $3,000 after a 10 percent discount on this terrible-sounding camp, you can afford to spend a few hundred more to send Ruth to a camp she will enjoy.

What your husband is worried about is his mother’s hurt feelings, and I am sympathetic about that, but only to a point. If he is insistent upon prioritizing his mother’s feelings—which, by the way, are irrational and unreasonable—over the quite reasonable feelings of his 13-year-old daughter, you two have bigger problems than choosing a summer camp. Your daughter doesn’t want to take a chance on spending another summer in a place that made her miserable; I wouldn’t either. If you’re going to go to the expense of sending her off to camp—something that is supposed to be fun and enriching for her, by definition—make sure it’s one that is a good fit for her interests/affinities. Three years ago, it seemed “overwhelming” to do that research, but now you are doing it (good for you!). All you have to do at this point is follow through. Your husband should not be afraid to tell his mother that his primary concern is what is best for Ruth.

—Michelle

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