When I was a kid, summer was freedom.
My family occasionally took a vacation to some nearby destination, like San Diego or Pismo Beach, but for the most part, we were left to our own devices, told to “just go play” or take a dip in the backyard pool.
We raced each other into the house, our hair waterlogged and our skin bronzed or maybe a little burned. We dropped our towels on the floor and stood with arms spread wide in front of the swamp cooler until our goose-bumped bodies could take no more.
My brother and I weren’t “free-range” children, by any means, but we were carefree and even a little bored every now and then.
There were homemade popsicles and unprofitable lemonade stands; there was digging for rocks in the bottom of the creek bed; there was riding the tire swing like there was nothing more important in the world.
And, in truth, there wasn’t.
Summer revolved around the most unimportant things imaginable, but they were everything to us. What made my childhood summers so memorable was that they truly felt like time off from the real world, like a vacation not only from school but also a reprieve from constant activities and the watchful eye of my parents.
When I had my own kids, I tried to replicate that feeling of freedom that comes with warm weather and no homework, but I wasn’t terribly successful.
I organized playdates and arranged to meet friends at the public pool—but only on Fridays because the other days of the week the kids attended music class or science camp. I greased up my three girls with sunscreen and watched them play in the sandbox for thirty minutes—but then remembered they had ballet or karate or swim lessons. Playtime was over.
As a modern-day mom, this was “freedom” for my kids: I provided them with minuscule pockets of playtime, but I master-minded nearly every moment. We were all exhausted by the time school started in August.
So, as modern parents who have a lot to juggle and multi-task, how can we strike a balance between the nonchalant “just-be-home-for-dinner” attitude many of our own parents employed and the micro-management some of us tend toward now? And if our kids are so used to our over-parenting, how can we raise an independent child that can enjoy a summer of creativity and curiosity, without them whining “I’m bored” all the time?