(Editor’s note: This column first appeared in our sister publication, Lehigh Valley Business. The topic, however, is universal.)
Running through the sprinkler, eating ice pops in the backyard, entire afternoons spent splashing in the sun at the community pool.
I remember all of this and more when I think back on the summers of my childhood. The days stretched before me with nothing to do but what felt like whatever I wanted.
Looking back, it seems magical, idyllic. I’m not sure what the days felt like for my mom and dad, who were both working. They seemed a bit like the Peanuts’ gang parents, around somewhere, showing up to serve meals, but my world was my friends.
Most of the other parents seemed the same, sending us out the door with a “Be home before dark” and then going about the business of whatever parents did.
Today, I’m a working mom and the world feels much different. Parents are more involved in their children’s days. Entire Pinterest boards are devoted to handcrafted summertime activities. Moms share photos of what looks like a “perfect” summer at home with their kids. The kids look at the camera smiling, holding ice cream cones, arms wrapped around their moms. Every day a picture is posted from another activity — a fair, the beach, a farmers market.
Meanwhile, I’m at work, perusing these photos on Facebook during my lunch break.
I call my kids to check in, and ask what they are up to for the day.
I usually get the same answer. “Nothing really, I’m playing (insert Minecraft, Fortnite or whatever game it is today). I might hang out with my friends.”
No longer “little,” my teen and tween can be home alone without child care. Still, “mom guilt” tugs at me.
“They shouldn’t be on screens all summer. They should be outside more. Are they reading enough? I bet they are eating too much junk food,” the little mom-worry voice whispers to me.
If only I was at home, I think to myself, I would bring them to the pool, the beach, the library. What a fun, stimulating summer they would have. I worry they feel a bit lonely, because I am gone for a large part of the day.
In reality, they are happy to have time alone without mom hovering around. I remind myself that a bit of independence is OK for kids their age, even good for them. That the trend of helicopter parenting and revolving our days around our children might not be good for them or us. Still, the mom guilt remains.
I plan special activities — movies, trips, dinners out — to make up for what I’m not giving them during the work day.
And then sometimes, the special things I planned don’t work out the way I had hoped. It’s too hot, the adults are cranky, the kids wear a look that says, “I would rather be with my friends.”
And there goes the mom guilt. Ever persistent.
But there are other times too. Times when I hear about how my teenage son spent the day playing Minecraft with his little sister, and how much she loved that he did that with her. There was that afternoon that he walked her all around the neighborhood while I was at work, telling her funny stories about what he was like at her age. There are the intricate drawings my daughter has time to spend all day on that I get to see when I get home.
Some days they ask me, “How was work today?”, and are genuinely proud of whatever I did that day. Then there are the things I can afford to give them because I am lucky enough to go to work every day. Without my job, there would be no summer sleep-away camp for my daughter, or pre-college week in New York City for my son.
They aren’t with me all day at home, but they know I’m at work doing what I love. They know that when I was their age, I wanted more than anything to be a writer. They see that, despite plenty of adversity, I grew up and made it happen.
I hope that gives them a bit of inspiration, and that maybe they will one day become what they are dreaming of now.
And despite being at the age when the call of their friends is louder than the one to spend time with mom, we still find time to admire the fireflies on summer evenings together. We have little rituals, like gathering together to watch “Stranger Things” on the couch at the end of the day.
And as for ice pops in the backyard, no one is too old, too cool or too busy for that. I’ll take red, please. I mean, only crazy people like yellow.