Motherly Collective

The other day I was complaining about some aspect of mothering to my own mom and grandma. In her usual fashion my grandma said something to the effect of, “If you are this overwhelmed with what you have imagine raising five kids.” My grandma frequently offers this “criticism” in a loving way. This piece isn’t about my cranky but loving grandmother although, what she said stuck with me.

OK, I don’t have five kids, I only have three. However, as I reflected upon the difference in modern motherhood I felt compelled to share. When my grandmother was mothering young children, my mom tells stories about walking miles alone at six or seven years old and taking the bus to the city with friends at age 10. About babysitting her younger siblings at 8 years old while my grandparents went out dancing. My uncle, at 5 years old, went “missing” for a whole day, only to be found asleep under the neighbor’s dining room table. I don’t know about you but this is simply not how we do it in modern mothering. My 10-year-old stays home alone occasionally, for about one hour, while texting me constantly. I do let them play alone in our yard for a little bit, while I watch from the Ring Camera. It’s simply a different time. 

I feel parenting today is a constant stream of scheduling activities, being the ringmaster of fun, trying to police screen time and being diligent about watching everyone all the time. We are the gatekeeper of gluten-free snacks, the CEO of our schedule and the manager of all emotions and conflicts. I. am. Exhausted. Aren’t you?

What can I do to be less exhausted? And is this modern method even good for my kids? Parenting like my grandma in 1962 doesn’t really seem to be the answer but what about my own childhood?

 My summers as a kid consisted of Bruce Springsteen blasting from the boombox as my dad cut grass. Hair wet, nightgown on, bare feet in the dirt asking for five more minutes to swing on the wooden hand-made swing in the front, or to dig up worms on the side of our house. I hardly remember any day camps or sports, aside from maybe a weekly t-ball game at the local park. My best friend wasn’t someone I met for prearranged activities. My best friend was my mom’s best friend’s daughter. It was a friendship that was convenient for our moms They would leave us home alone to play barbies and watch Pee-Wee’s Playhouse while they played racquetball. We made ourselves Eggos with pools of butter and danced to MTV—when they actually played videos. We made up games and dressed up like Madonna (beauty mark and all).

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 Our parents socialized downstairs, and we memorized every word to St. Elmo’s Fire by reading the lyrics on the inside of the tape deck insert while sitting on her waterbed. We snuck into her older brother’s room to snoop through his things when we were bored. We drank right from the hose as we chased her dogs around the yard. We sold enough lemonade at our stand to buy a pack of Garbage Pail Kids. We were free. This relationship came from what was best for our moms but we are still close 40 years later so, I’d say it was pretty good for us too. Life-changing actually. Some of the happiest moments of my life were these simple, unsupervised, unscheduled summer days. 

It’s difficult for me to give my own kids this level of freedom. It feels wrong somehow, between Dateline episodes and a never-ending stream of bad news, it’s almost paralyzing to try to parent in this anxious culture of safety. But I wonder if the kindest thing I can do for my kids is to give them an ’80s summer That level of freedom and boredom with just a dash of 2023. 

To start, I broke out the Garbage Pail Kids this morning. My kids loved it. We sorted. We laughed. We found cards with all our names. About 30 minutes in, I caught my middle son sneaking a peek at his iPad, “Beau, I thought I told you, no devices just Garbage Pail Kids”, I said. Wide eyed, he looked up and said, “Sorry mom, but I was just wondering how much these babies are worth.”

Turns out they are valuable. He’s going to open a store on Etsy.

 Like I said an ’80s summer with a dash of 2023.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.