Thursday, April 28, 2011

Summertime (and the living is not easy) - Revisited

Two nights ago, I was hanging out with my friend Sara. We were walking in a park and talking about how summer is almost upon us and how we are so glad to say goodbye to winter.

Sara told me she didn't know what she was going to do with her boys (ages 4 and 8) this summer. I asked her what she meant. She told me last summer they were occupied every day in kindercamp because she was recovering from a surgery and couldn't take care of them, but they aren't able to put them in kindercamp this year.  She is at a loss as to how she will occupy them all summer.

I told her,  "It's summer.  Let them go outside and play in the yard."  She looked at me funny.

Oh, that's right.  It's 2011 and parents of today don't spend any time away from their kids.  All hours and minutes of the day must be structured, highly interactive, and the parent must be involved in every movement they make.

I know I am dating myself and climbing up onto my crotchety podium again, but when I was young, we saw very little of our parents in the summer and I liked it that way. We were out playing with our friends, riding bikes around the neighborhood, climbing trees, making up obstacle courses on the front lawn, catching frogs, playing Charlie's Angels and Bionic Woman and swimming in the public pool.  Where was our mom?  Honestly, I don't remember because I wasn't interested.  My guess is she was doing all those boring adult things that I couldn't have cared less about like shopping, clipping coupons, laundry, cooking, cleaning and working.  She certainly wasn't fretting over what she was going to do with us all summer.  In fact, I recall that her response to me whenever I would whine about how "bored" I was during the summer was, "You need something to do?  I'll find something for you to do".  And she'd hand me a mop.

If my brothers and I hung around inside the house too long, we'd hear, "What are you doing in here? Go outside and play and make sure you're back by dinner time" and she'd kick us out of the house.  And then after dinner, before we were finished swallowing the last bite of our meatloaf and peas, we'd be out the door and wouldn't come home until it got dark.

Those were the glory days of being a kid, when childhood consisted of hours upon hours of discovering, exploring and finding creative ways to entertain ourselves. Now, the culture (or cult?) or parenthood has changed.  Children are no longer simply offpspring - they are a 24 hour/day occupation. 

During the course of our conversation, Sara also lamented that she feels badly that her kids don't have friends and feels it's her fault.  You see, the other neighborhood moms don't care for Sara (probably because she's too nice - so much so that they think she's weird) and therefore, do not set up play dates with her kids. According to Sara, a child's social life is almost competely dependent upon his mother's political savvy in the Mommy/Playdate network and my dear friend has been failing miserably in this regard.  As a result, her kids are bored, lonely, rammy and clamoring for attention. Hence her worries about what she will do with them all summer.

Poor Sara.  On top of all this, she confided that things aren't so great with her husband.  He works, comes home and sits comatose in front of the t.v. every night with little interest in her or in anything else.  So her entire life consists of taking care of kids and little else.  By the time she sees me every other week or so, she is so starved for adult conversation she can barely contain her excitement to see me.  She pours out her soul and I listen with an uneasy combination of pity for my friend and elation and relief that I had the presence of mind to avoid the same awful life.


sara star said...

My childhood in the 80's was the same as yours, down to the your bored why don't you clean your room line!

There are still a few out of the way country areas where children still play that way, but the cult of the suburbanized middle class mom is to enslave herself to her children's keeping.

flamencokitty said...

I'm 27 years old (grew up during the 90's) and even I spent my summers playing outside. And when I got a little too old (or lazy) for playing outside, I spent summers either playing with my sisters or playing video games/computer games (when I got annoyed with the sisters).

Now I can understand parents wanting to be nearby just to supervise the free play and make sure the kid isn't doing something really dumb (like playing on railroad tracks... when the train is coming...). But if you're a middle class suburbanite, don't you have a fenced-in backyard?

Parenting is hard, but I think some parents overthink it and make it even harder.

Anonymous said...

I think the whole notion of playdates is sooo stupid. What ever happened to kids making their own friends? That's how I made friends. My parents rarely talked to my neighborhood friends' parents but they always knew were I was. I fear for this world when these mothered to death children of late reach adulthood only to find out there have no idea how to live without someone directing their every move.

K said...

I grew up in the 90's, but my mom was the uber-paranoid sort of parent who wouldn't even let me go just up the street for the mail or around the block on my bike by myself until I was half way through high school. (And we lived in a pretty safe area.)

And when I would go to a friend's house I had to call and check in with her every hour until I was 14 and got a cell phone (so that SHE could call ME and make sure I hadn't been abducted or something). I hated phones, but I was thrilled because that meant that my friends and I could finally run around wherever we wanted without worrying about the time.

It drove me nuts that my mom watched over me like a hawk - I WANTED to go outside and run around when it was summer. I didn't need her structuring my play time or spending time with me. I wanted to get away from her; she was suffocating.

And it's insane that parents think their kids' social lives revolve around what networking the parents do. My mom knew who my friends' parents were, but she wasn't friends with them. I made my own friends.

Anonymous said...

I too spent much of my summers outside. I started working at 14, so I would work, spend time with friends, and read and just entertain myself. I certainly didn't rely on my parents for entertainment.

CeCe said...

Oh boy her husband sounds just like my sister's husband. So sad. I remember being bored as heck during summer...and I sort a liked it that way. Maybe when she says "what will I do with them" she means "how will I get them out of my hair so I can get some peace and free time to myself." I'm pretty sure that's what I would mean.

Dave said...

I grew up in the 1970s and there was no such thing as a "playdate."

I was not the biggest outdoorsy kid but my mom was hardly the helicopter type. She worked full-time, part-time, and freelanced from home in her basement clothing design studio, so even when she was home we had to leave HER alone a lot!

And she had a life, too, having her friends over or going to their house. And her friends for the most part did not have kids I socialized with. A few of her friends' kids did share common interests with me, but that was more of a coincidence and had no bearing on her social life. She also went out at night a lot, as she was an avid folk dancer.

We kids stayed out of her social life, and she stayed out of ours, other than driving us to friend's houses now and then. We were still responsible for making our own social arrangements.

I can't imagine it any other way.

Kildare said...

What is with the whole "playdate" thing? Whatever happened to just making friends and hanging out with them?

As another child of the 80's, I remember riding my bike for hours, playing frisbee in the street, and having my friends over for endless games of badminton or volleyball. I really pity today's kids. To paraphrase Robert McCammon, you only get to be twelve in the summer once.

Mali said...

I feel sad for your friend and her kids. Playing outside is so amazing for developing your imagination, learning about boundaries and danger (ie what hurts and what doesn't!) and nature and self-sufficiency and friendships etc etc etc. I do feel sorry for kids today.

Hannah said...

You're not dating yourself! I'm only 26 and I ran wild during my younger years (and I didn't harm myself). This entry made me really nostalgic, in fact; in the summertime I'd see my parents at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That was it. The rest of the time we were catching frogs or building forts or just playing retarded kid games. LOL No parents necessary! It makes me sad to think that if parents nowadays in my area turned their kids loose like I was they would be considered bad or inattentive mommies.

I turned out fine without a helicopter parent.

Cathy said...

My childhood was the same as yours. Playing outside with the neighborhood kids all day long. We weren't in a million activities like most kids are today. Luckily my younger brother is raising his kids similar to how we were raised but my husbands brother has his 3 daughters in so many activities they have no time to just "play". Their weekends are so full of scheduled activities it's ridiculous. Just let them be kids!

The Pint said...

That's really sad. Your friend seems like she's trying to balance her life between parenthood and retaining her sense of self outside of parenthood, which isn't easy in and of itself. Being ostracized by the other moms can't be helping (how is being 'too nice' weird?? what's wrong with these other moms??), neither can the fact that her husband is apparently checking out and leaving her holding the bag.

Is she familiar with the Free Range Kids blog? I'm childfree, but I enjoy a lot of the discussions there and have found the some of the information useful to pass onto my sensible parent friends. The woman running it has been an advocate for pushing against the 'helicopter parent' mentality and for giving kids more freedom and trust to do the things we remember doing as kids - going to the playground, riding bikes around the block, etc. She might find it useful for resources and support and maybe finding other parents nearby her who aren't into the "must be around kid 24/7 because they are my whole life!!!" mentality.

Alecta said...

Heck, my childhood was in the mid to late 90s and was the same way. I spent all summer outside, running around in the wooded area near my development. Mom couldn't care less - she'd be sitting out on the porch reading or doing housework and wouldn't really watch us.

I went to summer camps and all that too, but most of my time was spent chasing butterflies and lightning bugs, drinking strawberry lemonade out of these red plastic cups and creating forts. We would come back covered in scratches, bug bites and ticks, but mom never worried.

That's what kids do. They don't sit inside on their asses or just ride bikes on the carefully paved roads, they go out and have fun outside of their parents reach. I feel bad for the kids in my development sometimes.

Sadie said...

A friend of mine actually started a mommy whiner group on Facebook the other day. I love her, and bit my tongue instead of telling her that at 23 years old, she did not have to have an almost five year old and a three month old all while her husband and her both work and she is attending the local university.!/home.php?sk=group_219337384743484

Temujin said...

I definitely think parenting styles have changed quite a bit. There are kids pushed around in strollers today who are much older than I was when I had to walk everywhere under my own power. I expect the strollers will get bigger and bigger and the children in them older and older until at 16 years old they switch from riding in a stroller directly to driving an SUV, and they'll hardly notice the difference.

I'd say be careful about misplaced nostalgia. I think most people for thosands of years are convinced they were raised right and the next generation is not being raised right. I was born in 1970. Maybe the ever-present threat of global nuclear war made my parents fatalistic about letting us run around outside unsupervised. What's a few kidnappers compared to total annihilation?

Remember the good old days of gas lines and the Cold War and ketchup counting as a vegetable?

Blogger said...

I friggin' hate the word "playdate." What a stupid suburban buzzword. Ewwww. Why can't kids just hang out? Why does it have to be a "date" where their parents arrange the details with the other parent?

I remember being as old as 4th or 5th grade and calling a friend and asking if they could come over and they'd ask their mom and then come over. That was it! It was hanging out or coming over to play, usually spontaneously. Why do parents have to "arrange" or "schedule" a playdate? And it rubs off on kids' vernacular, as in "I like swimming, soccer, and having playdates." Why can't it be "I like playing with friends"??

Childfreeeee said...

I was happy to have a childhood of relative freedom compared to today's kids, but I don't think either generation of parents got it just right. My parents' generation still had the "kids should be seen and not heard" philosophy of childrearing to a degree and it would have been nice to get more interaction, nurturing and attention from them. Today's parents are suffocating helicopters micromanaging every moment of their kids' lives. I think the perfect parent would be somewhere in the middle of these 2 extremes - attentive and nurturing, while also giving the child their own space to explore and make mistakes.

Childfree Travel said...

I'm 34 and yes, we were always playing outside (altho I always preferred to be indoors playin with my Barbies) but this was in the 80s and we also had many kidnappings (unfort, don't think that has changed much) so we had to be viligant and always be out in pairs/groups. I grew up in San Francisco and with school only 10 blocks away (walking distance) and a great city bus system, we did have an independent childhood and I LOVED it. I think I love it now more as an adult because I "get it" and appreciate it more.

This day and age is different. Honestly, if I had a 10 year old I don't know if I would want him/her taking a bus across town with no adult supervision - the world is just a bit more crazy than it was before. However, for your friend there are plently of inexpensive summer options, has she looked into the local YMCA?

And to concur with all else, yes, "play dates" are super dumb. We made friends and didn't give a crap about how our parents fared in the "social spectrum".

Amanda said...

This article blew me away. I have a girlfriend just like this, and I feel terrible for her all the time. I feel terrible talking about my life and all the things I do and the free time I have. I want to be able to provide her an escape from her children, where she can come and be an adult... and not think about them for a change.

I agree that children being managed so rigorously was one of the motivations for me to not have them. If they could be free and independent as I was when I was growing up? Ehh who am I kidding, I wouldn't. It gives me another reason on the long list.