Parenting: Airing our dirty laundry

August 2, 2010

I can't quite describe what happens to white socks when you walk on a wooden floor in a cabin occupied by a couple dozen other boys, who've spent the day playing all sorts of sports on dirt fields and courts.

And then there are the two mysteries of camp laundry: 1) Whose socks/shirt/shorts/pants are these? I didn't send anything like this to camp. And 2) What happened to the socks/shirt/shorts/pants I did send? I labeled everything. Where did it go?

Doing the camp laundry is apparently a challenge for lots of moms whose kids go away - as evidenced from the sympathetic stories my friends shared with me on my Facebook page. But in some ways, doing camp laundry is like a lot of challenges parents face. We know that (theoretically) there's a "right" way to do it. Yet, in reality, we make compromises.

In a theoretical world, I could get those now-brown socks back to pristine white. My children would bring home all of their own clothes, and none of anyone else's. But in reality, is it worth my time and effort to spend hours, and bottles of bleach, on socks? And somewhere in the world doesn't the shirt my son did bring home balance out with the shorts he didn't?

Just as I don't expect my kids' rooms, or grades, or manners to be perfect all of the time, I don't demand that their clothes look like the "after" pictures in a detergent commercial. I really feel that a lot of parenting is about choosing your battles and not striving to be perfect. I don't want my kids to worry about their clothes at camp - I want them to learn and have fun.

So, I shop for their socks and underwear (items I've determined most likely to disappear) at discount stores like Forman Mills and consider the ones that don't come home just part of the cost of camp. In return, the boys know the clothes that are returned to their rooms after camp are clean - meaning I've put them through the washer and dryer - even if they remain a bit dingy.

I'm sure they tried to be responsible with their clothes. And they know I've tried to get them clean. It works. It's like grades: Straight-A's are great. But if one of my boys really tries and gets a B, it's not a catastrophe. Or family dinners: I try to get everyone to sit down to dinner together every night, but sometimes it's just not possible - with sports and work and other obligations. So, we try, but I don't beat myself up if we run out for fast food every once in a while.

In other words, I think it's good to have goals and lofty aspirations, but it's also OK for parents to let their kids see them fall short sometimes. Perfection isn't attainable, and if we're always trying to be perfect as parents, we may unknowingly give our kids the impression that they can never make mistakes.

So, after seven huge loads of really yucky laundry, I decided the sleeping bags and blankets are going to the cleaners. I'd rather hang out with my boys and hear about their month, than spend another night cleaning up what their adventures left behind.

And to whichever boy now has a whole bunch of new socks that say "Buckman" on them, I say, "Enjoy." Hope your mom can get them clean!

And just for fun, here are some tips on getting laundry clean: - laundry tips

Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on

Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.