June 30, 2016
In the last few days, I have been thinking about siblings at camp.
Actually there are multiple types of siblings at camp:
Let me start with actual siblings.
Susie Ma’am and I have 4 children of our own – twin boys (19) and two daughters (18 and 15). Yes, for 3 years we have had four teenagers.
Like typical siblings, they can get on each other’s nerves. Often mundane issues (who gets to sit where in a car) can become substantial disagreements. [Note: I could go into excruciating detail regarding the rules of “calling seats”, but you have neither the time nor the inclination to read a page of elaborate rules.]
But for the most part, they are quite supportive of each other. While I would love to credit our parenting with their mutual support, I must instead give the nod to camp.
Over the years, Susie Ma’am and I have spoken to hundreds of siblings and discovered something encouraging: they like each other more at camp than at home . . . and this improvement goes home. They talk about appreciating their brothers and sisters’ gifts and ignoring their personality quirks when they are here.
I suspect that this is partially because camp gives them a little more separation. Children no longer have to share a room or a play space with a sibling. Now, the sharing is with cabin-mates, not the brother or sister. [Note: In this case, I am talking mostly about siblings that are separated by gender and/or age, not twins. If twins are in the same cabin, clearly they will be interacting constantly. We actually separated our twins for the first 4-5 years, but they eventually prevailed upon us to bring them together and they loved it.]
This separation helps provide perspective. A parent shared a letter from a 9-year old who wrote “my relationship with [my 14 year-old brother] is SOOO much better. I watch big brothers walk with their arms around their little brothers.
It is truly delightful to see a brother or sister weep tears of joy as a sibling is recognized or honored. What you wish you would see more at home, we get a chance to witness regularly.
The other reason I think camp brings siblings closer is the fact that they have shared experiences at camp whereas at home they have divergent networks of friends doing different things. While each camper has a group of camp friends, they are all attending the same special events, doing similar activities and spending time at the same place.
Perhaps most importantly, these shared experiences do not involve us parents. Do not get me wrong – I am not saying that parents ruin things. Instead, I am suggesting that unique experiences that have siblings without parents are so rare that they are special. You will find your campers will recite songs, chants and jokes when they return as if they are a private language.
But camp also creates siblings. For children that have no brothers or sisters, camp provides both in abundance. Obviously, having siblings provides built in playmates and confidantes. Susie Ma’am often says she wishes she had a sister. Siblings provide other gifts as well. Earlier this year, Time Magazine published an article about the benefits of siblings (Time Sibling Article). It talks about siblings regularly argue and learn to resolve conflicts. They learn (reluctantly) to accept compromises. These mini-disputes teach them to communicate more effectively.
Being an only child has many gifts, but sole children simply get less practice with this type of conflict resolution.
Suddenly, an only child has a plethora of friends, playmates, confidantes and opportunities to develop communication skills and resolve conflicts.
Finally, camp also provides multiple older brothers and sisters that can serve as exemplars of what it is like to be older. Our schools are organized by grade, so a 2nd grader never really sees what it is like to be a 7th grader or a 9th grader. Here, they get to see young people at every stage of maturation, which helps provide them with a roadmap of what they might be like in the future.
So, in short, camp really alters and enhances every camper’s ideas of “family” and siblings in ways that make campers more loving and capable.