The Perfect Summer With Your Kids – Expectation Vs. Reality
School's almost out, which means it's time for the internet to kick into high gear with all sorts of helpful mommy blog posts telling you what you should and shouldn't be doing with your kids this summer.
Of course, most of them are just flat wrong, and all of them create unrealistic expectations for both parents and kids alike about what a good summer vacation is all about. Mommy blogs and super parents love to tell you what the perfect summer should be. But here's what a real summer looks like for real parents of real kids in the real world.
Expectation: Let them play outdoors until the street lights come on!
Reality: We live in the Deep South, where if the sun doesn’t kill you, the mosquitos will.
Let’s face it. Summertime in the South is kind of awful. It’s humid and it's hot, and most of the wildlife wants to kill you. Maybe people were made from hardier stock back in the day, but I’m pretty sure everyone who willingly settled in the South before we invented air conditioning was either certifiably insane or suffered permanent brain damage from all the heat strokes they had after moving here.
If you turn your kids out of the house and tell them to come back when the street lights come on today, get ready for a visit from Child Protective Services. Because you can bet somebody on your block is making that phone call.
Expectation: Let them go exploring on their bikes!
Reality: It’s not 1955 anymore. Or even 1985. Kids don’t do that these days, and we wouldn’t let them if they wanted to.
This one kind of falls in line with the staying out all day, but it’s even worse because most of us parents can remember going everywhere on our bikes. We probably never really went very far or did very much, but we remember it that way because we were kids. The world always seems bigger and the days always seem longer when you’re a kid.
But that was then and this is now. We have more cars on the roads, more nightmares on the nightly news, and more dire warnings on social media. Heck, remember the creepy clown craze? I don’t know many parents who would let their younger kids just head off exploring on their bikes anymore. We know way too much about the darker parts of the world now.
Besides, kids just aren’t that into bikes these days. My kid adores his Razor scooter that shoots sparks out the back whenever he hits the brake pedal, and he’s been getting into skateboarding recently, too. Bikes just don’t hold the same appeal to kids today as they did to us when we were kids, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Just let your kids be into whatever they're into. It'll be okay. I promise.
Expectation: Family time!
Reality: Fighting over what to watch on Netflix for an hour before everybody just gives up and gets out their phones.
I don’t know about you, but we spend more time in my house trying to figure out what everyone wants to do than we spend actually doing whatever that ends up being - and we have an 11-year-old, when things are still pretty easy.
Most of our family time involves playing tabletop games, from normal board games like Monopoly and nuanced bluffing games like Sheriff of Nottingham, to complicated strategy games with thick rulebooks and heated arguments over how to interpret them.
That's us, though. We've got a younger kid and we're all geeks in my house. However, if you’ve got teens or kids who are just too cool for family time, go ahead and get used to what the tops of their heads look like, because that’s all you’ll be staring at most of the time while they tippity-tap away on their phones.
Expectation: Set up a sprinkler and watch them frolic for hours!
Reality: Set up a sprinkler and watch them kind of have fun for about five minutes before someone slips and falls, or the mosquitos swarm. Or both. Probably both.
Ah, the old sprinkler in the front lawn routine. This might be great fun for toddlers and younger kids, but any child capable of figuring out just how boring running back and forth through hose water truly is will let you know really, really fast. This is another one of those things we all remember doing a lot more as kids than we probably ever actually did.
Expectation: Spend a day in the park!
Reality: “It’s too hot! There’s nothing to DO here! Can I have another snow cone? Billy keeps hitting me! When are we going home?!”
It doesn’t matter how great the park is, or how many things there are to do. In the end, it’ll still be a park, the sun will still be hot, your kids will still always be thirsty, and they’ll get tired of going down even the coolest slide eventually. Spend an hour in the park, sure. Maintain your expectations, though. Otherwise, you’re in for whole lot of complaining while you try and force them to just have fun, dang it!
Expectation: Let them run barefoot and free, having make-believe adventures and playing in the dirt like we all remember doing as kids!
Reality: Where and when did you grow up? Because I remember doing that maybe once or twice as a kid, and then getting yelled at by my mom for dragging mud in the house and "what happened to your pants, do you think we're made of money?!"
I don’t know what kind of pastoral wonderland mommy bloggers grew up in, but I grew up in the real world of the ‘80s. Parents were a lot more lax with their kids back then and things like safety standards hadn’t been invented yet, but we still didn’t just run around willy-nilly all day, every day. Yeah, we played outside. Yeah, we got dirty sometimes. Yeah, we’d play make-believe and have adventures…in our own backyards. For about an hour at a time, max. Because have I mentioned how hot and miserable it is outside during the summer when you live in the South?
Expectation: Fill each carefree summer day with magic and wonder!
Reality: Supermoms (and dads) are the worst. Just stop it.
Seriously, I hate Supermoms (and dads).
You know the type. They always have the perfect plan for the perfect day with their perfect children that goes perfectly as planned, as documented by perfect Instagram pics and Facebook posts. They always have an Answer for everything, and a Tsk-Tsk Comment for anything. And they’re all full of crap.
Just don’t tell them that, because they’ve got pages and pages of Instagram photos and Pinterest projects to back up their claim that they’re just better parents than the rest of us. Which they’ll let you know anytime they feel like you’re not doing everything the way they would do it. Because they’re always right, dontchaknow?
Look, I get it. We all love our kids and we all want everyone else to know how much we love our kids because we tend to love them so dang much it hurts. I really do understand that. But you can love your kid and profess your love for your kid without being a jerk to other parents about it.
You don’t need to tear down other moms and dads either directly or through passive-aggressive “observations” you make behind clicking teeth and manicured talons to make yourself look better. Trying to prove how far above other parents you are doesn’t actually make you a better parent. It just makes you obnoxious.
I like to think I'm a good parent, but I know I could be better. Which is why I try to do right by my kid each and every day. I even talk about parenting a lot. For example, here’s something I wrote about being a stepdad. I take tons of pictures of my kid. I brag on my kid. I make blog posts about my kid. I buy him things. I make things with him. I plan and execute elaborate birthday parties for him with celebrity guest appearances. I play with him, I listen to him, I grow with him. I do all these things, but it never really feels like I’m doing enough. Ya know?
And that, I think, is the real difference between Supermoms (and dads) and the Rest Of Us. They have it all figured out. They know what’s best. They know what they’re doing with their organic, gluten-free, hand sanitizing, free range, essential oiling, locally-sourced parenting style. They have that stuff locked down. Best Parents Ever. Pro at Parenting. GOLD STAR.
Which is, in my opinion, the exact opposite of what makes a good parent. Or at least a normal one.
The rest of us never think we’re doing enough for our kids, or that what we are doing is what we should be doing. We fret over every decision and wrestle with every major choice because we don’t actually know what the heck we’re doing. None of us do. Our parents didn’t, either. They made it up as they went along, too. We just thought they had all the answers to the questions we’d ask them when we were kids. They didn't. Now it’s our turn, and nothing’s changed.
Sure, we have Facebook and Mommy Blogs and hundreds of thousands of people telling us The One Right Way to raise a child today, whereas our parents just had Dr. Spock and a wooden spoon – but it’s all still nonsense.
Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, because kids aren’t robots. They’re not all the same.
No one's experience with their own children qualifies them to cluck their tongues at other parents and tell them The One Right Way to raise their kids. Every child is different, which means every kid will react differently to the same things. Which means…
What worked for me will probably not work for you.
What worked for you will probably not work for me.
What some parents do with their kids over the summer isn't going to be what other parents do with their kids over the summer. Some kids might love riding bikes and doing crafts, while others just want to stay indoors to draw or read, or play board games. There's nothing better or worse about any of those things.
So stop stressing about giving your kids whatever the internet and other parents tell you is the Best Summer Ever.
Just have a summer, guys. Spend time with your family, and the rest will sort itself out.