Summer vacation is the hardest time to be a stay-at-home mother. The weight of responsibility is on me twelve hours a day to make sure the kids get their needs met, and that means giving them some structure, but it’s a daily battle just to find structure for myself.
It’s also a particular kind of horrible to parent in an age when kids aren’t playing outside. One of the biggest gifts my mom gave me (thank you, mom! xoxoxo!) was the freedom to do what I liked in the summer, including going on long walks outside, or finding groups of kids to play with, or going to the park alone. I haven’t managed to give that same kind of freedom to my kids, and even if I did, all the kids who should be out playing are either in summer camps or indoors playing video games.
On top of that, I feel cultural pressure to justify my existence by finding paid work. Most of the women in my peer group went “back to work” (as if we hadn’t been working so hard already) when their youngest kids started elementary school, but my plan is to continue to stay home, working on my novel. But in the summer, I’m adrift in a sea of structurelessness and it’s hard to work on the novel. It’s just plain hard to think.
Next year, both kids will be in middle school. They deserve much more independence, including the ability to walk to and from school without an adult and the ability to set up their own social lives. They also deserve more responsibility, including the job of making their own lunches and cleaning their rooms. I did all those things by the time I was in middle school. My kids aren’t ready.
So this summer, my goal is to help them be ready. They’re doing regular room cleans now and we are getting out on daily hour-long walks, where they are starting to get a sense for how all the different neighborhood landmarks connect to each other. We’re taking the bus and going to drop-in programs at neighborhood community centers. Weekly library trips. They find their own breakfasts and lunches. The social life planning . . . well, work in progress.
But I am only one person, and the price I pay for this is letting them have extra screen time, which lets me have some time to do my own thing. I intended to limit it to three hours a day, but I have a feeling it’s more like six. I feel enormously guilty about this. It’s just . . . that’s what I can do, on my own, during the day.
This is the first summer I’ve been able to go out and about with the kids without feeling like it’s an obligation. We’re getting to do things I want, instead of endlessly visiting playgrounds and watching little kids have fun while the adults around me all hang out texting. My kids are partners in my fun now, and I’m enjoying getting to know the people they are becoming.
It’s all changing. Life is going by so fast. I think I’m almost keeping up.