Mom Defends Decision to Send Daughters, 11 and 13, to 7-Week Long Sleepaway Camp: 'So Life-Changing' (Exclusive)

The mom was put on the defensive by commenters who slammed the idea of kids spending weeks away from home and family

<p>Rachael Potash/TikTok</p> Rachael Potash and husband take selfie with girls ahead of their departure (left), Rachael mails them an envelope of letters and goodies (right)

Rachael Potash/TikTok

Rachael Potash and husband take selfie with girls ahead of their departure (left), Rachael mails them an envelope of letters and goodies (right)
  • Rachael Potash is helping her daughters embrace a love of summer camp inspired by their late father

  • The mom of two girls, 11 and 13, shared some of their prep for camp on TikTok and was slammed for allowing the girls to spend 7 weeks away from home

  • Rachael tells PEOPLE about all the benefits she feels her daughters get from the experience

A mom getting ready for a beloved family summer tradition was shocked to see it ruffle so many feathers.

Rachael Potash shared a few videos on TikTok giving her followers a look at how she spends the days leading up to her daughters, 11 and 13, heading to sleepaway camp for seven weeks. She tells PEOPLE she was "completely shocked" when comments started coming in criticizing her decision to allow her girls to spend so much of the summer away from home.

"I started sharing how I spend my time with my daughters and what we do before they leave for summertime. It was this beautiful thing of me making their favorite dinner for their last dinner and having their stepsister come over when it wasn't even her week to come say goodbye to them. It was about making these really special moments with my kids, and it turned into 'You're a bad parent for sending them away for seven weeks,' " Rachael says.

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Related: Tiffani Thiessen Opens Up About Her First Summer as a Sleepaway 'Camp Mom' of 2: 'Trying New Things' (Exclusive)

The mom of two admits that the idea was unusual to her at first, having never gone to sleepaway camp herself growing up. It was the girls' father, who died four years ago, who shared the magic of summers away with her in their adult years.

"He grew up going to sleepaway camp. I couldn't believe it, leaving home for the whole entire summer, but he'd tell me, 'No, you don't understand. It was the best time of my life,' " she says.

"Before he passed away, when he was in remission, we went to visit his camp in Maine. We took my daughters to his camp and got to see his bunk and all that. We went to the sister camp and my older one was interested. We went to go see other camps too, but she decided she wanted to go to his sister camp," Rachael says. "So this camp, in particular, has a ton of meaning because it's the sister camp of where her dad went. I think it's truly a connection for her to her dad, in a sense."

Rachael's comments were filled with people who felt seven weeks away from home and family was too much. Some questioned her parenting and her motives in agreeing to that time away from her kids. No stranger to the good and bad of social media, Rachael chose to laugh it off.

"I made one video as a response making fun of the backlash I was getting and how crazy it was to me. Who should ever tell another parent what they should or shouldn't do?" she says.

"I think the point really got lost for some people. I'm glad there's a conversation because it's important to talk about it and open up some people's minds about what is actually healthy for a child."

Rachael's daughters revel in their summers, which start with a lot of quality family time at home and packing their trunks to prepare for their journey from South Florida to Maine. Now in their fifth year, the trek north starts bright and early.

"They go up there with a bunch of other kids from Florida. We all meet at the airport at 6:30 a.m. They have older group leaders who chaperone the girls as they fly from Miami to Boston. Then, they take a bus from Boston up to Maine," she explains.

"It's a very long day for them, but we load them up with goodies and they have a lot of fun. They know that they're going to their summer home. It's a major bonding experience."

Rachael also thinks other kids whose parents might not be open to the idea of summer camp would benefit from the digital detox component.

"My daughter wrote me a letter the other day. She said, 'My shower is outside and I feel so at one with nature.' We live in this digital world where so many of us are literally living our lives online. These girls are getting to experience life living in the moment, outside making s'mores and going water skiing, and making lifelong friendships," she shares.

"They're learning how to tackle some issues in life. They support each other when someone's having a problem, or someone is homesick. They're dealing with issues that most kids don't even think about until they go away to college. To me, it's like what better gift can I give them than having them literally be present in life and be out in nature and not worry about makeup or who went to this party and whether or not they were invited. I think that kids now need that more than ever."

Because of the detox, the girls don't know their mom has gone viral. Rachael plans to fill them in on a call or a visiting day, but she'll have to wait because until then, "We communicate through letters."

"So they'll write me a handwritten letter and then the camp scans it and emails it to me. Then I will email them back a letter and the camp will print it out and put it on their bed. They're very removed from social media and the online world, so I don't want to give them a reason to think about it."

Despite the criticism, Rachael has no regrets about letting her kids have these special summer experiences.

"I share my life as a mom and a bonus mom in a blended family. I think that a big part of our life is sleepaway camp. It's a big part of my kids' lives. They are making lifelong friends that we continue to see throughout the year," she says of her viral video.

"I'm so thankful for those parents that have stuck up for me. I appreciate it because — I'm in this social media space so I've had negative backlash before, but people online can be really, really mean. It's been really nice to have the support that I've had from the moms who do get it."

Rachael adds, "I've heard from so many moms who did go to summer camp themselves when they were younger. Some of them met their husbands at their camp and now they're sending their kids to the camp where they met. The love for summer camp goes deep."

Rachael can't wait to witness, once again, how her daughters transform in their time away.

"It's so life-changing to see my daughters come back more independent, more confident, having become more of who they are and not being apologetic for it," she says. "It's amazing because young girls need to feel confident and independent and strong, and proud of who they are. We chose this camp because it's really focused on empowering young girls and embracing all kinds of strength."

The TikToker is hopeful that other parents will consider things outside their own comfort zones and realize, "It's not really about you."

"You already had your childhood. You already grew up. Now it's their time. You know your kid best. Ask them about it, start a conversation," she advises.

"It's fine if you have a kid who has a ton of anxiety and would never want to be away from home. I'd never say to force a kid to do it. But for kids who do enjoy it, there's this saying: They're living 10 months of the year for these two months. That's how camp kids live, ten for two. Let them have that chance."

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