As I said here planning my first mini-vacation in 15 years, I started reflecting on what had been expected of me as a parent to my two now grown sons back in the 90’s when they were growing up. Spending the summer focused on family activities with my granddaughter reminded me too of how younger parents often struggle between putting food on their tables and making sure their children get to ‘live it up’ during the summer time, marched through fun activity after exciting event and so on. As I was reflecting I ran across an article from a mother who shared she was depressed because she was unable to fulfill every family members personal desires to create that ‘perfect summer break’ and I felt great empathy, and perhaps a little frustration with her.
What Didn’t We Do This Summer? The No True Parent Fallacy
From a person who was once just a daughter, who grew to be a mother, who had grand-motherhood surprised on her at a somewhat young age, I want to share exactly what that flurry of activity back in my childhood summers really meant to me.
One of my earliest memories was being shipped off to 4-H camp. While I remember white knuckling the bag that would carry me away from the first time I’d slept anywhere but in my parents home, I also remember feeling a sense of adventure. I’m going far, far away from my parents (about 30 miles) and I’ll be independent! (But not really) Was I terrified? Yes. Was I angry and resentful that my Mom was willing to slap me on a bus with no one to really watch me and send me off into the great beyond? YES! Did I get over it? Yes! About 5 minutes after I arrived at summer camp.
Was it a good experience for me? Absolutely. I’m over 40 now and the education I received at the local 4-H camp has literally sustained me for life. I haven’t had poison oak or ivy since. I’ve never forgotten which plants are poisonous and which are edible. I’ve never forgotten meeting the first boy who told me “You’re okay, for a girl.” (His name was Josh by the way, and I was 8) So what’s the point here? Ohh, it’s a big one, and it might hurt just a wee bit but if you try to remember it when the chips are down and you can’t afford a third mini-vacation this summer, you’ll find a bit of comfort.
You won’t always be front and center of your child’s best childhood memories or experiences.
Some of your child’s best summer memories will include time away from you playing in the woods, kickball games in the street, secret ghost stories around a late-night fire. And that’s okay. It’s more than OKAY! It’s what you want. You want to raise your child to be independent, to achieve things without you around, to gain greater understanding of the world in areas that you aren’t knowledgeable enough to increase. Not every childhood lesson can be found at Disney World….. so while we’re on that subject..
Sure. Everyone wants to go to the beach. And maybe you can financially pull it off just fine. But everyone also wants to go to the local amusement park this year. And the two vacations put together might be a bit of a stretch. So, instead of choosing, would it really be better to take on that extra part-time job that takes you away from your children more than you’ll be with them on that two day amusement park run? (Because you know those older kids won’t even stay near you in that park!)
My parents taking me to this amusement park or that didn’t give me an epic summer. In fact, the main thing I remember about any of those out-of-towner vacations is the fun we had getting there. I loved watching my Daddy subtly communicate with truck drivers on the road, the tooting horns, the frustration inspired by one more ‘Are we there, yet?’ and all of the rest of it. After traveling with my Mom, Dad and two sisters and usually a random cousin who didn’t usually get to go on vacations at all, the actual activity or event seemed anti-climactic. No, what I remember the most about those adventures isn’t the rides I chose, but the happiness of my parents, my family and the forced bonding (and sibling fighting) experiences of a tight hours long ride in the car. The lesson here?
No matter how fancy or expensive the destination, what your children will remember will likely have less to do with the experience in the main activity itself, than it will be the overall, happy, bonding, experience of taking off to a special place with your children.
If you can’t afford the expensive options, put them aside for another year and make that one vacation a memory creating blast.
The fact is, it’s depressing to know that there are parents out there who are just like our parents before us, and just want to offer us more than they ever had and are just simply unable. When the Grandmother in me looks back though, I also remember that those jovial car rides were in part, due to how happy my parents were being able to provide. As always, you do what is best for your family, but don’t take every suggestion in the parenting magazines to heart. Believe it or not, your children will grow and they will thrive with parents who can’t meet every lofty standard of entertainment for families in the summer time.
Just remember, if you’re doing all you can to give your children happy summers and happy lives, you’re absolutely doin’ it right!