I was born in good ol’ 1975. When I was about 7, my father played on an adult-league baseball team and we would attend all his games. The only sunscreen on our bodies was the Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker we got for Christmas that year. My mom would give my sisters and me money for soda and ring pops, and we would walk around with our pockets full of loot and see what kind of excitement we could stir up. We were too important to watch the actual game. We wanted to partake in shenanigans of our own, and my mother literally had no idea where we were or what we were doing.
Our summer days did not involve summer camp, reading, or schedules of any kind. Long days at the beach were best when finished off at McDonald’s. I specifically remember my mother swinging into the parking lot of the golden arches in our blue, oversized Caprice Classic one afternoon as I literally slid across the seat, sans seat belt, banging into my sisters. I was still oiled up — I think I’d used a whole bottle of tanning magnifier and Sun-In that day. We hydrated with some Hi-C, then got back in the car to head home where we played outside on our tire swing until dark.
The days were ours — laid before us with so many opportunities to get the bottoms of our feet black, get eaten to death by mosquitoes, and have sugar cereal and fruit pies. Every morning and every day after school, we were told the same thing, “Now, go outside and play.” And we did.
Spending hours doing homework wasn’t a thing. I hardly ever came home with paperwork for my parents to sign, and if you played a sport, practice and games were right after school. I don’t remember my parents running around feeling as though our schedules were out of control. I remember them watching the news every night as my father drank a Budweiser and my mother snapped open her Tab.
When I was a teenager, I’d have girlfriends come home on the bus with me after school. We spent our afternoons watching hours of Nickelodeon, eating instant ramen, making prank calls, and writing notes to our friends or current crushes. I would then talk to them for hours in the evening, twisting my finger around my pink phone cord as we discussed what we would wear to school the next day, as well as any new drama.
I look back on my time as a young girl with deep nostalgia, and because my childhood felt special to me, I let some of these moments leak into my parenting for my kids. These days, I sometimes long for things to be the way they were for me growing up in the ’80s and ’90s.
But not all the time — part-time is good enough. I believe in wearing sunscreen, and I encourage my kids to pick an extracurricular activity that they enjoy. I expect them to read almost every day.
I want my kids to enjoy the freedoms I did. I want them to embrace opportunity. So that is exactly what we’ve done in our family.
I’ve been known to let them eat sugar cereal for breakfast. On warm days after school, my son rides his bike all over town with his friends, I am glad we can communicate thanks to technology, but I rarely know exactly where he is.
The smell of McDonald’s still takes me back to those summer days, and I take my kids there to eat a few times a month. My daughter craves ramen when she is sick, so I always get it for her.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel guilty when my neighbor told me her kids don’t even know what a Happy Meal is. And when some of the children my kids want to hang out with are too busy jumping from activity to activity to come over for a proper playdate, I question myself and wonder if I am exposing my children to enough.
Some days are wild and free, and I make my kids play outside all day long and am thankful we don’t take on so much that they don’t have time or energy to climb trees and explore.
And other days, I am the baddest Uber driver out there, speeding around to every event in our jam-packed day. I am thankful for these days, too. My kids are able to have opportunities and learn about things that weren’t available to me.
There are times when we have all the fixings to have a delicious homemade meal at home, but I am craving the smell of french fries mixed with vanilla soft serve (damn, I love that smell), so I tell my kids to jump in the car because we are going out. I honestly think I get more excited than they do to eat fast food.
I don’t think parents are doing it wrong these days, not at all. But I don’t think parents did it wrong in the ’80s or ’90s either. Things are different for sure. Each generation has their own idea of how they want to parent. I’ve just decided to combine them.
You can still make amazing memories and have a busy schedule. Just because your kids aren’t playing barefoot under the sprinkler doesn’t mean you are damaging them and causing them to grow up too fast.
And just because you force them to go out and play until the street light comes on and feed them ramen for lunch once in a while doesn’t mean you are neglecting them either.
One thing rings true now that did a few decades ago (and will continue to be true forever): Moderation in everything is key, so please pass the Lucky Charms. Tomorrow I am roasting an organic chicken in between taking my daughter to lacrosse and my son to a coding club. For us, this is the perfect recipe for a happy family.