Making the Most of Summer With Kids (By Ditching the Guilt)

boys fishing

Something happened the other day that I wished I'd experienced during the first week of summer. It was a gorgeous sunny day, and I rushed through my work in order to take the kids out for a festive, let's-make-the-most-of-August extravaganza. I drove them to parks and playgrounds, we rode bikes, I bought them drippy cones at a gourmet ice cream shop, we went to a pool. And here's how they reacted to our Super Summer Day of Amazing Childhood Memories: they whined.

The sun's too hot. The pool's too cold. There's nothing to do in this park. Can we just go home and watch cartoons?

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The reason I say I wish I'd have enjoyed this deeply rewarding day several weeks ago is that it was a much-needed reminder that I don't need to feel guilty that I'm not bombarding my kids with a nonstop influx of fun activities and enriching summertime pursuits. Our Afternoon of Ridiculously Privileged Whining helped me put down the expensive camp brochures -- and boot my kids into the backyard.

We moved from Seattle to Eugene, Oregon at the end of May, and the kids have been on break ever since (I didn't see the point in having them finish out three weeks of school here). The change has been hugely positive -- we're closer to family, friends, and all the activities we love to do -- but if there's been one fly in my otherwise picture-perfect summer it's the long afternoons of being home with my kids.

It's just -- you know, it's hard, trying to balance working-from-home with mothering-from-home. I rely on the TV a lot in the mornings, I often have to bark at them to quit fighting or screeching or making gun sounds, and my response to being interrupted yet again by someone asking for their frillionth cup of milk is rarely a cheery, "Sure, honey! Coming right up!"

I've spent a fair amount of time feeling bad that my kids aren't necessarily experiencing the best of summer on a daily basis. My idea of the "best of summer" being a mashup of my own memories of visiting my grandparents at their remote beach home in Michigan and a flurry of vaguely-remembered Pinterest images, that is. Shouldn't they be running around barefoot every day, lost in a sun-drenched world of make believe, engrossed in photogenic craft activities that secretly boost their math skills? Shouldn't I be doing a better job of hand-selecting their summer experiences?

Like I said, it was the day of interminable whining that got me to snap out of this unrealistic mode. I mean, for one thing, both my kids HATE being barefoot. For another thing, what kind of unrealistic helicopter-parenting existence was I thinking I needed to create for my kids? In the real world, Mom has to work, and at any rate, it's not my job to make every single moment a magical fairytale of wonder and delight.

Besides, here's what I've learned: my kids may bitch and moan about being sent outside to play while I'm hunched over the laptop -- but two seconds later, I look out the window and they're hidden in the bushes at the end of the yard, chattering excitedly about how they're Ninjago guys who have to fight the evil Lord Garmadon. Hey, there's that sun-drenched world of make believe after all.

I've decided to stop feeling guilty about the fact that my kids have to entertain themselves during the day. Instead, I'm focusing on all the awesome things we HAVE been doing as a family this summer, and I hope when my kids are older, those are exactly the same things they're remember most of all.


How do you balance life with kids during the summer? Do you ever feel guilty for not "doing enough" each day?

Image via Linda Sharps

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