I Miss The Carefree Summers Of My '80s And '90s Childhood

If You Grew Up In The ‘80s And ‘90s You Weren’t ‘Neglected’– Your Summers Were The Best

July 8, 2020 Updated July 9, 2020

80s-90s-kid-summer-1
Dairyland, WI. 1990 Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty

My childhood friend sent me a Sinead O’Connor video the other day with a caption that read This song makes me remember lying out at your house while our parents were at work.

It takes me back too. In fact, the two of us would listen to that tape over and over during the summer of ‘91 in between applying a tanning magnifier and looking through old issues of my Young Miss magazines, blasting it as loud as we wanted.

Then, we’d take a break from the rays, float into the kitchen and look into the avocado-green refrigerator for some snacks before settling into my basement to watch Days of Our Lives.

There were no phones to distract us. Summer camps weren’t such a big thing. We had each other’s undivided attention, and those memories will forever be marked in my ‘90s soul. 

My mother didn’t feel the need to call constantly to see what me and my sisters were up to. She had to work and knew we’d figure it out. 

This wasn’t neglect. This was her doing what she needed to get done and it taught my sisters and me how to entertain ourselves and be self sufficient. Other than taking a week off during the summer and sneaking in a few beach days with us, my mom wasn’t around to entertain us. She left us a chore list that we were expected to complete if we wanted our allowance (we did), and for her to chip in when we went clothes shopping (we wanted that too).

By today’s standards, some might say we had a long leash. The thing is, we didn’t look at it that way because all of our friends were in the same boat. During ’80s and ’90s summers …

You drank from the hose.

There was no time to go inside because we were so busy with Willy The Water Bug, or making mud pies. I still remember the taste and smell of the warm water coming out of the faucet on a hot summer’s day.

You walked everywhere.

Boys playing in water
San Bernardino, California. 1989 Universal Images Group/Getty

My mother wasn’t afraid to let us walk places. She asked where we were going, and we had to be back at a set time. It didn’t matter if it was a few miles away. We made it an adventure to walk to a friend’s house, or into town to spend our money on Big League Chew and Fun Dip. 

Fro-Yo was your jam.

There was nothing like walking into the air conditioning and smelling the sweet soft serve coming out of those machines. We’d be hot from the walk and excited to sit and hang out for hours in the fro-yo shop and see who else showed up, since it was the place to be. There were times we’d all chip in change and share, and others we could afford our own. It didn’t matter though– it was always a treat and I miss fro-yo shops so bad.

If you argued with your siblings, you figured it out.

My mom rarely felt the need to micromanage a fight between me and my siblings. Since she worked and those long summer afternoons involved fighting over what to watch on television, and who got the last Carnation breakfast shake, she saw that we figured things out on our own a lot faster without her involvement. 

You waited in the car.

My siblings and I waited in the car all the damn time while my mother ran into the store to get a few things. She was never worried someone would call CPS, or that we’d go missing. Her biggest concern was we’d try and pee in the seat belt slot because, well, it happened once when I really, really had to go and she wouldn’t stop chatting it up with her friend Patty in aisle four. 

And while we had these freedoms, we didn’t even see them as freedoms; it was just our life. But one thing is for sure: we weren’t left to fend for ourselves at every turn. If you grew up in the ’80s and ‘90s you also:

Had a bedtime.

boy Hanging upside down from some playground equipment
1998. David Bohrer/Getty

Hello, we all remember going to bed when it was still light out a lot of nights. The evenings weren’t a free-for-all. Our parents told us to go to bed and we listened. That doesn’t mean we didn’t stay up late to play tag with our flashlights on the ceiling.

Had rules to follow.

We knew how far down the street we could walk. We knew we had to ask before going to a friend’s house. We knew we had to clean up after ourselves and complete chores like washing the car if we wanted a ride somewhere. We complained about the rules and structure, but we sure as hell had it.

Had parents that did, in fact, know where you were.

We weren’t “free-ranging” as some think we were. My mother always knew when I was. Even when I didn’t think she knew, she knew. It’s not as if the sun came up and it was a mystery as to where we were. Our parents knew the safe paths to take and told us to stick together when we went on an adventure. 

These generations didn’t grow up with zero supervision. Things were different then. As my own mother tells me, people didn’t talk about how others parented, unless it was something awful. She remembers that the moms that worked and the moms that didn’t work weren’t on teams. She also says everyone in the neighborhood was aware of the kids and what they were doing, and reminded us often that we would get caught if we did something we weren’t supposed to be, ’cause all of those mothers had eyes on the backs of their heads and watched out for each other.

I can attest to how true that is. I once tried to have a boy over when my mom was at work; news traveled fast and it didn’t end well. Oh, and the time I decided to drive a car when I was fifteen without a license and ran into someone’s yard, my mother knew before I even had time to process what happened. 

If you were growing up thirty or forty years ago, yes, you had a different childhood. But that in no way means you were neglected. And if you ask me, it was pretty damn fun and I wouldn’t change a thing.