With the summer holidays lurking dangerously close, is it just me who feels a surge of panic bubbling up inside? How the hell am I going to entertain my kids for seven weeks straight? How will I keep my shit together? How much is this all going to cost? Despite hearing Facebook cheers of ‘yay summer!’ from numerous other parents (they can’t all be genuine surely?) the mere thought of playing entertainer, teacher, diplomat and slave for the forthcoming weeks fills me with dread.
I start to wonder if my own mother had the same worries as June merged into July and the school gates came perilously close to closing for the entire summer.
I don’t think she did. Unfortunately, summer holiday survival tips are on the long list of things that I’ll never be able to ask her.
However, let me polish my rose tinted spectacles and tell you about the magical summers of my youth. I spent a lot of time alone or with the neighbourhood kids. I was never bored. We didn’t hang out at £100 per day theme parks but instead you’d find us, you know, in the garden. I watched far too much TV by today’s standards and was permanently attached to my Commodore 64 when rain interrupted outdoor play.
I don’t think the words, ‘I’m bored!’ ever passed my lips and even if they had, I doubt my mum would have cared too much. She never made lists of summer activities for us to trawl through and there was no schedule of educational and fulfilling pursuits to keep me entertained. Hers was a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to summer.
And that’s what I want to recreate.
When I say I want to give my kids an 80s summer, I don’t mean scouring E-bay to find pogo balls, Etch-a-Sketches and Game Boys while serving plates of party rings to be washed down with Soda Stream creations. I’m talking about recreating the mentality of an 80s summer.
For me an 80s summer consisted of chilled out parents who weren’t bombarded from all sides with information about what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their kids. And kids who were never bored, despite the fact their parents weren’t helicoptering around them all day.
As far as I can see, this admirable feat can be achieved in four ‘simple’ steps:
STEP ONE: TUNE OUT OF SOCIAL MEDIA
My mum didn’t have to see all the amazing things her friends were doing with their kids via their highlight reels on Instagram. She wasn’t inundated with guilt-baiting articles such as ‘5 things you should NEVER say to your kids’ on Facebook and Twitter. She didn’t have Pinterest to make her feel lousy about all the beautiful and educational activities that she knew she wouldn’t be able to create.
If she wanted parenting advice, she asked for it. If she felt like knowing how her friends were entertaining their kids she picked up her telephone, found where the required number was taped to the wall and called to ask.
My mum wasn’t drowning in a sea of parenting information, ideas and advice on an hourly basis like I am. And I bet she was happier for it.
Step one for creating the perfect 80s summer is to give social media the finger. I don’t need to be told what I should be doing to advance and nourish my kids. I don’t need to share our summer activities with everyone else. Our summer is going to be our summer.
STEP TWO: DITCH THE MUMMY GUILT
Step one will help enormously with this. It’s easy to feel guilty when your holidays are permanently in the shadow of everyone else’s Facebook-perfect summer.
My mum didn’t sit around feeling guilty because I’d exceeded my 15g daily allowance of sugar or get twitchy when I spent more than two hours in front of a screen. She had no idea that recommended allowances for such things even existed.
She didn’t feel the need to constantly be by my side, guiding and educating my every turn. Like generations of women before her, my mum parented largely by instinct. If I was healthy and happy then so was she. If she sensed something was wrong then she would work to fix it.
These days it’s easy for instinct to be crushed under the weight of the parenting advice, information and opinion we receive hourly via the little computers resting in the palm of our hands. And the loss of instinct has but one consequence. Mummy guilt.
So let’s work to rid ourselves of all guilt this summer (and for good).
STEP THREE: LET THEM BE
I spent my summer days running round with the neighbourhood kids and darting in and out of sprinklers.
My mum probably didn’t even know where I was half the time. While I don’t believe the world is a more dangerous place today (I just think mass media have made us more aware of the dangers), I won’t be recreating that particular facet of an 80s summer. I like to be able to see my kids or at least know where they are. However, just because I can see them doesn’t mean that I will feel the need to drip feed them with Pinterest-inspired activities all day long.
Sometimes my mum would, shock horror, sit and read a book. Or watch her soaps on TV. This ‘selfish’ behaviour didn’t leave me feeling bored and neglected. On the contrary, I was too busy having adventures courtesy of that wonderful invention over-used by all 80s kids. My imagination.
Yes I do want to spend time with my kids this summer and I certainly will play with them and take them on trips to exciting and magical places. But in true 80s fashion, I will balance all this with my need to nurture myself. If the mothership has a spring in her step then summer will be a peaceful and fun event for all concerned.
STEP FOUR: SCRAP EXPECTATIONS
You know how it is when you meticulously plan an outing or activity with your kids. Your expectations far exceed the eventuality. Someone chucks paint all over the new sofa, someone vomits all over the back seat, nothing looks like it did on Pinterest and everyone has major tantrums because they’re hot, tired and, despite all your best efforts, bored. A schedule of planned summer activities is doomed to wind up in the ‘did not live up to expectations’ pile.
During my 80s summers, each new day was a blank canvas waiting to be painted with new adventures. We just woke up and saw where the day would take us. No lists. No schedules. No cries of ‘what are we doing today?’ We had off-the-cuff fun – the type that didn’t consume all of my mother’s time, patience, money and sanity. Taking expectations out of the equation will surely lead to more happiness and less disappointment all round.
Now, if it is possible to put all these steps in to place, can you imagine a more perfect summer for parent and child? I for one will be scooping up some 1980s brashness and giving it my best shot.