Thursday, July 14, 2016

Have I Failed My Child This Summer?

Accepting the chasm between the imagined and actual reality is never easy. I am in constant struggle with accepting the breach when it comes to scrutinizing both my own life trajectory, as well as my parenting life. And I'm not just talking about grand ideals on how I want to parent or my dreams of how my child should blossom. No, the reality is that it's a daily struggle, a sense of guilt, if you will, when you picture what good parenting looks like in terms of day to day activities. This angst gets even more pronounced during the summer break. 

Oh the Summer, when children are out of school and when my son, in particular, gets to say to me, 'I'm bored' or 'What else can I do?' ad nauseam. This year, keeping him busy at home has been a bit more challenging than previous ones because we had to skip the camps offered by his school. Since we had to fly out of the country and threw in some out of state short breaks in the mix, fitting the camp sessions into our schedule just became impossible. But I didn't think it would be a problem. After all, I had great plans that won't only keep boredom at bay, but would also adequately prepare my son academically for the next school year. What kind of stay-at-home mom doesn't come up with creative and fun learning activities for her child, right???! There's just no excuse!

I imagined having structured days for my son during the entire summer vacation. There will be time for learning and time for play.

I imagined having him read one novel a week, or at least complete ten books by the time the new school year starts.

I imagined having him log on to math websites to review, as well as learn advanced skills. He will do this for 30 minutes per day. 

I imagined teaching him cursive. I learned it when I was in third grade and so there is no excuse for him. He has to perfect it before starting fourth grade.

I also imagined being able to arrange numerous playdates with his school friends who he has missed and will miss, as these boys will be transferring to a different school within our district. 

At the top of my list shortly before summer break started was also my plan to go through all of my son's paper work from the past school year. They've been begging to be organized, filed away or thrown out. 

And speaking of organization, I was also certain this would be the summer when I would finally get around to finishing that scrapbook documenting our Disney World trip...from 2012! He was five years old at the time with lots of baby teeth. All his front teeth are now (mostly) permanent. 

By now you all probably know me enough to know that I have an overactive and overachieving imagination. In reality, all I have to say is that real life got in the way. 

We wake up and go about our days when we want to. Isn't that what summer break is about? He finished one novel and watched a million other YouTube videos and some Netflix shows. Yes, I let him. Why? Because I feel too tired and am mostly too busy to keep getting angry and fighting. He has reasonable limits but definitely nothing too structured. He still remembers his multiplication and division but didn't really log on to the advanced math lessons I wanted him to watch. Fortunately, with three more weeks left for summer break, it's looking like we can finish the alphabet in cursive. He still forgets some letters, but I'm optimistic he learned it enough so far. Now as to whether he would remember what he learned is another story. And those playdates? We haven't had any arranged ones to date. For now it's enough that he gets to play with the other neighborhood kids. 

I can give you a hundred explanations or excuses. I was jet-lagged. I caught a bad virus and felt so drained and perpetually exhausted. My father-in-law got hospitalized. A very good friend of mine is ill. I miss my own family. I had writer's block. It's too hot outside. There was a ton of laundry to wash and fold. Ants attacked our kitchen...

This list can go on and on and all I really have to say is something I always say when I need a jolt of calm and sense of acceptance: It is what it is. 

Should I be consumed by guilt that my son could have had a more productive summer than what I was able to give him? I don't think so. I think what would have been more disturbing was if I took all the fun out of the equation and made summer break into serious business.

Do I think I'm being a bad mother? Absolutely not. Could there be others who think I am? Perhaps, and it really shouldn't and doesn't matter. Life is too short to be wasted on guilt, and frankly there are far more important things in the world to be guilty about. Having a laid back summer is definitely not on that list. 

In the end, the questions should never be in the direction of "Is my child going to be the smartest?", "Is he the most prepared?", "Is my house the most spotless, most organized?", or "Did I keep him busy enough?". Rather, they should lean towards "Does he know how to appreciate the feel of sand between his toes or the warm breeze against his skin, and all the other simple wonders that surround him?", "Does he know how to be a good friend?", "Am I teaching him about kindness and compassion?", or "Does he feel loved?" These are the things that point to character and not simply credentials. These are the things that can't just be peeled away or get easily dissolved by the changing tides as we journey through life. They point to things that build us and make us authentically stronger. 

Our summer break has been fun, lazy, hectic, unstructured and definitely full of memories. It is what it is. And in the grand scheme of things, where we are and how it is looks imperfect but feels precious and inarguably blessed.


  1. I know. We always have these visions of what "perfect" moms should do. But kids really need unstructured time to relax, be creative, whatever. Even to watch too much TV sometimes. Sounds like your son is having the perfect summer.

    1. And momma needs t.v. time too, right Anne? ;-) Thanks so much!

  2. I think we all have jolts of what isn't, but you have the right idea on focusing on what is. Enjoy every moment, Joy. xo

  3. Always a challenge for moms like us, but I completely agree with you, Rudri. Thank you for your wise words as always, Rudri! Hope your summer is going great!

  4. Hi Joy!!! I saw your article on Mamapedia which lead me to your site! This is exactly what I'm going through right now. I even brought my mom from the Philippines to keep my daughter for the summer but was constantly questioning my decision if I should have put her in summer camp instead. I know she is enjoying her time with her lola. Btw, we almost have the same story, came here for a visit but I met my husband and everything was a whirlwind after that. I've been married for 13 years now and have a 10 year old daughter. I'm in Charlotte, NC btw

    1. Hi Joy, nice to 'meet you'! We should not worry too much about our kids' summer break. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my own summer breaks growing up were fun and not 'academic' or 'work'. And we're just fine, right? Besides, time with family especially if it involves strengthening our kids' sense of heritage is always worth it, in my opinion. Hope you guys are enjoying the break and that it's not too hot in NC! Thanks for stopping by, Joy :-))


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