The summer holidays are almost upon us. Six long, hopefully hot, weeks without the pressure of extra-curricular schedules and nagging about homework and uniform laundry. The kids sprawling on a blanket under a tree reading books for pleasure and contemplating the shapes of clouds. Games involving water, perfect ice cream cones, camp outs.
And now back to reality. Six weeks of trying to do what I have to do with four, slightly smaller people getting in my way. Six weeks of cajoling them away from their screens and then, when that doesn’t work, banning screens entirely. Six weeks of trying to get them to leave the house because I’m bored and them flatly refusing because they want downtime. Six weeks of them eating whatever they can forage because frankly, with so much extra tidying up to do, who can be bothered to cook?
No. For me, the summer holidays seem to start and finish with one thing – parental guilt.
It’s ridiculous really. My children are perfectly content to lounge around inside, playing, chatting, listening to music and doing things on screens. They don’t mind what they eat as long as there’s a plentiful supply of it and if I didn’t suggest a single outing all holiday then that would be completely fine by them. All this perfect summer outside rot is entirely the product of my imagination, formed partly from my own childhood, from books I’ve read and The Waltons.
So why do I feel so guilty when the real summer doesn’t match the imaginary one?
I think it’s because I see how they choose to spend their time as a waste. If I had endless free days, I wouldn’t spend them inside, building invented worlds out of cubes or watching American sitcoms on repeat. But what about when I was 12-19? What would I have chosen then?
That’s the trouble. I didn’t really get a choice because there were rules about what was acceptable. No-one offered me a smorgasbord of relaxation options and said – pick one. I played out because I wasn’t allowed in. There was barely any TV and I had no you tube. I was bored so I had to make my own fun. And this is what I want to impose on my own children because that’s how it ‘should’ be.
It’s not like they are wasting their lives. In term time, every available moment is filled with something worthy and two of them have activities that don’t stop even for the summer. So surely I should just chill and let them do whatever they fancy, no matter how pointless?
Well, one things’s for sure. If I try to impose my idea of summer on them, then we will all have a much more confrontational holiday than if I don’t. And from a selfish point of view, if I let them ‘chill’ all summer then I will have no problem hitting all my own deadlines.
But what will I do with the guilt?