There’s a quote that I’ve seen a lot of people share recently on social media and it goes like this:
‘We get 18 delicious summers with our children. This is one of your 18. If that’s not perspective, I don’t know what is.’ Jessica Scott.
Have you seen it? On first reading, my immediate reaction was, I imagine, pretty similar to most people’s – like an emotional bullet to the heart, it struck home what we all know, that childhood is short and limited and we should make the most of these precious blocks of time while they’re in our care. The holidays are a couple of weeks away but reading it was enough to make me grab my children and sit with them under a sprinkler, eating ice lollies while attempting to have the time of our lives right this very second.
But then the quote really began to irk me, and the more I saw it the more it made me make the thinking emoji face (confused look, hand on chin).
And YES, it’s exactly that, it’s the pressure. I love summer – and holidays – and the best bit since Eliza started school is getting to spend all that time with her, without school runs and deadlines and obligations and I hate hate hate sending her back, but this makes it seem like you have to make this summer, and every summer, the best ever, as it’s one of the few you’ll get. No pressure! Aka ALL THE PRESSURE.
I’ve been thinking about this all day, so here are all the other reasons it doesn’t resonate with me:
It’s ‘enjoy every minute’, but in disguise: One of those mawkishly sentimental quotes about motherhood that are usually passed down to you by older people who view the early years through a rose-tinted lens of nostalgia, who’ve forgotten that while children are amazing and you would happily give up your life for them in half a second, a lot of the minutes when they’re very young are NOT enjoyable (No-one enjoys being sleep deprived to within an inch of their sanity, and beyond, do they? No-one enjoys a hundred people staring at them in the supermarket while one of their children flails around on the dirty floor, wailing, do they?)
These expressions – like rod for your own back and all of these – are like sticks to beat you into submission with, and make you feel bad like a bad mother if you don’t comply. You don’t have to enjoy every minute! Just as you don’t have to make every moment of summer the most ‘delicious.’ For a lot of people summer and being out of routine might be a nightmare. Just do what you can, with what you have. P.S. it does get a lot more enjoyable as they get older, never fear.
Summer actually has all the ingredients for disaster: It’s hot, which can make everyone cross. The heat means children don’t sleep, which can make everyone irritable. It’s still a struggle to get everyone to leave the house; it’s a highly flammable situation. I’m ginger and pale and don’t mix well with the sun, and putting suncream on a slippery, octopus-limbed child is a challenge greater than doing the Crystal Maze in a blindfold. Two of my children are scared of wasps – aka any small, flying thing – which does make leaving the house tricky. Summer is lovely, the warm weather and light evenings make parenting – and trips to the park – a lot happier, and hey summer, you’re hot! But you’ve still got issues.
It’s OK to do nothing: This quote makes me think that you have to go out there and DO stuff, and make it memorable. But by the time we reach the school holidays, any holidays, sometimes even just Friday, everyone is exhausted, grumpy and ready for a break. While we will get out there and do stuff, often we do nothing and that’s fine too. Everyone needs to de-stress and de-compress, and if the children want to do this while watching Power Rangers all morning in their pants, and that’s just fine with me.
Work during the summer holiday, for parents, can be a struggle and a juggle: As Rachel pointed out in her Stories – I’m paraphrasing here if you missed them – summer is tricky for working parents who have to manage work and look after children and already feel guilty for not providing six weeks of adventure. As a freelancer, my arrangments are usually last minute and ad hoc, meaning working weekends, evenings, calling in favours from friends, hiding my phone behind a cushion, anything so I can get stuff done and spend time with the children. It’s tricky, there’s the juggle of sorting childcare, which is expensive and inflexible or making other arrangments, of taking time off, not taking time off, and inevitably being stretched and not paying full attention to anything. I can imagine it’s incredibly hard for single parents. But for everyone, woah, guilt coming at you from all angles! That’s not delicious, right?
Winter’s great, too: Christmas! Bonfire Night! Not getting turned into a red, sweaty mess when you leave the house! You get my gist. It’s possible to make the most of your children all year round, just as it’s possible to be so infuriated that you want to scream into a void but will settle for a large post bedtime red all year round, too.
At 18, I’m pretty sure my mum was ready for a break: I mean, who doesn’t want to spend all their time with an angsty, emotionally charged teenager who objects to the sound of you breathing? Parenting doesn’t stop at 18 and I’m sure I’ve spent much more enjoyable summer time with my parents since I’ve been an adult (basically, since I’ve given them grandchildren and they can ignore me. Hi, Mum!).
You can’t force the memories: Another brilliant person I follow online, journalist and author India Knight, recently tweeted about her dislike for the phrase ‘making memories’, saying that you can’t force them, it puts pressure on the day and inevitably ruins it, and your memory latches on to odd things anyway. My daughter, who is currently obsessed with the World Cup, recently got the Harry Kane Panini football sticker and declared it the ‘best day of her life’. I know, she’s six and prone to overdramatise things, but still, it was a surprising and sweet insight. We asked her to name some other best days of her life and it all focused on the smaller stuff, like winning on the arcade on a seaside break, or the following day when she got a duplicate Harry Kane sticker, and not the big gestures and more expensive holidays we’ve been on.
We’re a few weeks off the big holidays now, but it’ll come round quickly, and let’s face it, some of it is bound to be brilliant, but some of it will be fractious and mindnumbing and repetitive, but this is all normal and perfectly OK. And if that’s not perspective, I don’t know what is.
So here’s to having a good summer without any pressure to be perfect. P.S. we are still to book a holiday – any very last minute recommendations? Or shall we head straight for the arcade?
More, pressure-free posts…why I hate the school run and things you’ll obsess about in your child’s first year at school