While on our family summer vacation in Sea Isle City, my mother-in-law and I passed a newly built playground, complete with rubber bottom and age appropriated signage. “They just didn’t have those kinds of things for my kids,” my mother-in-law sighed with regret. Her regret is not really targeted at herself, but at the society that existed when she was a mother.
She went on with, “We just didn’t have so many things to do with our kids,” again with a sigh. Her sadness is genuine because she is the pied piper of playtime. My children, really any children, prefer her company to any parent from this generation or hers. She summed up with, “It just was not part of the culture in the 70’s.”
It is true. Mothers of the 1970’s, and I say “mothers,” because, let’s face it, they ran the show when it came to the kids, had to be creative to create a child-centered life for themselves because the culture did not make it very easy. Yet, there did not seem to be a lot of pressure to run counter to the culture.
My mother, a very good mother by many standards, spent our summers lounged pool side at our pool club with her girlfriends, smoking Virginia Slims Menthol, sipping Tab and the occasional colada. A prime meridian of sorts ran down the length of her body making a line of demarcation where pool chair met sun. I can remember the two family vacations we took when we were kids to Villa Roma- the Italian version of the resort in Dirty Dancing. My sisters, cousins and I would spend the entire day at “Kids Camp,” and then stay in our rooms with our grandparents or a hired resort sitter (read: total stranger) at night.
On the way down to our rented shore house, my husband and I made a clipboard of fun. It was a flexible schedule of activities that centered on our children’s happiness punctuated by one, maybe two, nights of just fun for grown-ups. This depended, of course, on my mother-in-law’s energy level after playing with kids all day on the beach since she would be out babysitter. Our main motivation for such a schedule was moodiness and mayhem. If the kids had nothing to do they would drive us insane and break things in our rental.
Now I do not recall breaking anything in Villa Roma, and my mother seemed like she was in a really good mood at the pool (every day was not a colada day), so I can only surmise that we were not constantly under foot, whining and beating each other up. How exactly have things shifted so that parents of today (I cannot be the only one) feel the need to constantly entertain their children in order to keep the peace? On vacation?
Surely there are many benefits to being involved in our children’s lives, but I have to wonder if we all might be better off if left to our own devices. Happiness comes from within, or so they say, so how long before I can let my children entertain themselves or have I created parent- provided-happiness monsters? I also have to wonder how much of my own happiness is now dependent on theirs. I would not have missed out on seeing their faces covered in frozen custard and smiles as they rode the boardwalk rides for anything in the world.
So I will live with the monsters I have created, while, as always, try to find the balance between being a parent and a person too.
This is an orginal post for Jersey Moms Blog by Amy Griffiths, a New Jersey mom.