Last week my daughter started a new camp with her Girl Scout troop. I usually share my daughter’s excitement about camp. She and I have fun getting everything ready for her to attend, and she’s perpetually exuberant about the new friends she makes and the fun she has.
But this time, I felt challenged about camp from the start. The requirements for attending camp included crafts and supplies (think “pickle buckets” and “SWAPS”) that took a long time to gather and create. I felt unheard when a few weeks before camp started, I realized that my daughter wouldn’t be in a group with her normal troop members. When I asked my troop leader about it, she told me the switch was impossible. I could feel my maternal anxiety rising about my daughter’s sensitivity. Would she make friends? Would she be upset that she wasn’t with her troop members?
On the first day of camp, I dropped her off in a public park. Unsure of where to go, I asked a leader about it. She was not friendly. When we finally found our group, I waited 10 minutes before a responsible adult showed up, and then that adult seemed unaware that she had a group of campers waiting. At pickup on the first day, the carpool line was so disorganized, I was under the impression that they’d lost my daughter. After thirty minutes of looking for her, she was found with her camp unit – the unit leaders didn’t understand they were supposed to be up at the pavilion with the group. I thought, ok at least she’s safe…but the damage was done. My daughter thought she was in trouble, and instead of telling us all about her fun camp on the way home, she cried the entire way home.
A strong wave of anger came over me. I was frustrated about our bumpy start to camp. But, I knew something was amiss about my reaction. While the whole situation had been inconvenient from a parent perspective, overall my daughter was a happy camper. Once she got over the misunderstanding at pickup, she told us all about her fun experience. When she woke up the next morning, she was excited to go back to camp. She wanted to show us everything in her bucket from the day before. Because she was so joyous about the experience, I decided to put my feelings to the side because I didn’t want to influence her experience in any way. But, my reaction after that first evening was bothering me.
What is going on with me? I thought. Why am I so angry? Worried? Generally uneasy? Why am I so worried about how my daughter when she’s in new situations, when typically she does a great job and fits in just fine? Upon some reflection, I concluded that’s it’s ME.
Don’t get me wrong – I still believe my concerns are valid, but my daughter’s attitude about the whole thing taught me a lot. She wasn’t as concerned as I was about everything being perfect. She just wanted to have fun. When I thought back to my own girl scout experience growing up, I remembered something valuable. I was a part of our local girl scout troop growing up, but I wasn’t in it for very long because we moved a lot. There it was. My own childhood disappoints rearing their head.
Spiritually, all of the relationships in our lives are mirrors for us. The closest relationships in our lives, like our children and spouses, often trigger our deepest pains. The purpose for this, I believe, is for us to be able to heal and overcome these challenges and pains. I took a hard look at why this experience with my daughter was such a trigger.
I never had the childhood that included long-term friends or consistency. When I did find a group I liked, I was always just a little bit different than the other kids. In high school, I didn’t belong to one social group. I had a few friends across all the social groups. I wasn’t ever one of the popular kids. I never “fit in” anywhere. I’ve spent a good portion of my adulthood trying to belong somewhere. It’s taken me a lot of spiritual work and learning to let go, but I’m beginning to understand that the only person I belong to is ME.
It wasn’t an easy thing to look at, but I realized that I was projecting all of my fears and insecurities from childhood and adolescence onto my daughter. She and I are not the same person. I’m not the same parent as my parents. I’m not trying to live vicariously through my daughter. But because she is one of the most important relationships in my life, I can see that her experiences trigger unhealed things from my own childhood. I don’t always see the connection right away.
Humbled by this awareness, I vowed to do better for the rest of the week. I tuned into my intuition and asked if there was a serious concern about my daughter’s safety. My intuition told me NO – she’s safe at this camp. With that to the side, I went forward with lower expectations and a generous eye towards forgiveness and acceptance for new unit leaders and overwhelmed camp directors. And I did my best to be as grateful for their efforts as my ego would allow. The rest of the week was better with fewer frustrations.
I also moved closer to my daughter: both physically and spiritually. I sat at the dinner table every evening after camp and looked at every craft project, each little SWAP, and learned every song she wanted to share. I thought back to 7 year-old me, took that part of myself by the hand, and looped her into our joy. I asked the universe to heal the part of me that didn’t experience blissful summer camp. I asked the universe to bring that joy forward now. And I vowed to always be aware that my daughter’s experiences are different than mine were. I’m creating something new as a mom. I’m healing and evolving as a person. It’s ok if I don’t get it perfect the first time.