Camp Woodland Blog

A Parent’s Perspective on Building Strong Girls to be Strong Women and Leaders

Posted by on July 15, 2022

How do you Build Strong Girls to be Strong Women and Leaders?This one is tricky. For every mother or father you ask, you could get a different answer to this question. For starters, if you are reading this, chances are, you are sending your daughter/s to a 6 week-long summer camp. I don’t know about you, but that certainly isn’t the norm where we live. We are already, simply by making the decision to send our kids to camp, challenging the current cultural norms. Showing them without saying it outright, “It doesn’t matter what everyone else does. This is what we believe is best for you.”

I truly believe this is an investment to build independence, for their growth, for unique challenges, for successes, for failures, and for learning from those failures. The failures might be in a physical activity. They might be with friendships. They might be in learning or not learning new social skills. Regardless of the type of failure, fail they do. For the most part, this is without our knowing and without our help. We support all of these experiences when we agree to send them away to camp. We agree to take ourselves out of the equation for 6 weeks. And while in our heads we know this to be critically beneficial for them, it can still be difficult. Hopefully, we can agree on, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. We know the overnight camp experience builds stamina and inner strength for our girls.

Our daughters are living 6 weeks of their lives without us. At fist we wonder how they will survive without all the wisdom we have to impart (especially funny if you have teenage daughters!). They won’t have the same safe (sometimes overprotective) boundaries we provide at home. Our daughters may have been nervous themselves before this summer started. Even those who have been to camp for multiple years can be apprehensive about what the upcoming summer is going to bring because each year is different. And we can’t make it all better for them.

Not by telling them they don’t have to go to camp. Not by telling them it’s all going to be okay. Not by helping them while they are at camp. Not by being there when they struggle. It’s out of our hands, and that can be scary. Our primary role is to listen when they get home from camp. Listen with compassion, love, and awe as they may share some of their struggles and how they made it through them. We can also remind them of what they shared with us when challenges arise throughout the school year. They carry these failures, successes, and seeds for strength with them wherever they go.

By allowing our daughters to be without us, we are supporting the development of their internal resources separate from parents and family. They learn how remarkably capable and adaptable they are from a great group of “near peer” role models (the counselors). They experience and learn firsthand, rather than being told by a parent or coach, what their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of interest are. This at any age is a priceless gift. In this era, it doesn’t seem to happen as naturally anywhere else other than at overnight camp.

This is not to say that families aren’t critically important to children’s growth and development. Of course they are. We are. But by taking ourselves out of the equation for 6 weeks -not 1 or 2, but 6-, says without saying that we believe they will be okay without us. And for most of us, if not all, we see after the 6 weeks, that not only were they okay, but they thrived. They grew, developed, and matured. We know that not all of this growth would not have occurred had they stayed home. We ultimately want our daughters to one day be independent, confident, and strong on their own. We are fortunate to have Woodland as part of the equation to help get them there.

This means that we place our trust in camp – the counselors, staff, the woods, the lake, the fields, the friends, the inevitable conflicts – to keep our children thriving and learning with the physical and emotional safety nets camp provides. All the staff are modeling being a female in leadership. The counselors are all women. The directors of the activities are all women. Our youngest campers at age 7 see all the ways in which women lead with skill, compassion, and laughter. They learn firsthand how to be a leader in a way that promotes the thriving of those that follow or are learning from them. The Woodland leadership is committed to the growth of the campers, not to promote themselves. A message and living example that is sorely needed right now.

You may believe your daughter isn’t a leader. And, not everyone can or will be a leader in the limelight. But even attending camp for one summer will allow her to try on that role. Everyone gets the chance to lead in one way or another. And even those who are frightened or not comfortable being a leader, will get the opportunity to try. Leaders come in every shape and size and skill. At camp there are chances to lead in each way every day. How awesome it is to be able to give the gift of inner strength and leadership to our girls this summer!

This blog was written by a current camp parent and Woodland alum. Susan Austin Short began her time at camp when she was 8 years old. She was a camper for 7 years and on staff for several years after that (she has her 10 year blanket!). Susan and I were co-counselors together in Tamarack during my first summer. We shared an apartment in Chicago when we were both pursuing Master’s Degrees in the early 90’s. Now we share stories of how camp builds strong girls that will one day be strong women and leaders.