Summer fun brings pressure to entertain kids

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
A 2018 study found parents are ready for summer break to end after 13 days.

Roughly three days into his summer vacation this year, my 9-year-old turned to me with a pensive look on his face.

"How long until we go back to school?" he asked.

School hadn't even been out a week and he was ready to go back. He missed his friends. And he wasn't the only one. 

Michigan summers may be a dreamy mix of long, light-filled days, dips in the lake and relaxed schedules, but for many parents, they're something else: a logistical nightmare. It's a weekly (if not daily) minefield of figuring what parent will be home to take care of whom and what camp starts when before a week of "vacation" away from home. My family's summer also included a nice bout of pneumonia that went through all of us just to make things especially interesting. 

So as some parents get emotional about the end of a "carefree" summer and kids heading back to school on Tuesday, I won't be one of those dabbing my eyes. I'll be ready for my kids to go back.

Nothing tests a parent's scheduling skills like summer break. And many have to start planning by spring. By April or May at the latest, it's a mad scramble to figure what camps to enroll in, who will cover the gaps and how to squeeze work -- and maybe a vacation or two -- into it all. It's a Herculean task of logistics.

And there's the added pressure to create "fun" and make memories all along the way. I have friends with two young kids who every year announce on social media how we only have 18 summers with our children until they fly the coop, so we better make the most of each one. That means expensive trips, camps and a lot of money. 

As much as I agree with making the most of every opportunity summer offers us with our kids -- in a blink of an eye a toddler becomes an adolescent and an adolescent is suddenly a teenager heading off to college -- are we helping our kids or setting them up for disappointment if we fill every waking moment of our kids' summer with endless activities?

A 2018 study of 2,000 parents conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Groupon found that the majority were ready for summer break to end after 13 days. Fifty-eight percent felt pressured to plan out summer in its entirety for their kiddos and 3 in worried  that their summer plans wouldn't live up to their kids’ expectations.

Parenting has changed a lot over the years. My parents didn't worry about whether my siblings and I were having a "fun" summer. It wasn't even on their radar. We visited an aunt in Pennsylvania who had a pool for a week and my mother took us to the wave pool in Madison Heights. That was the extent of our entertainment. 

With my own family, we made one big trip to Washington, D.C., earlier this summer and then spent a week at a lake. In between it all, I've tried to relish the smaller moments, the ones that often end up being the most memorable  -- playing with my daughter in her little pool, getting a Dairy Queenmblizzard with my son and taking our puppy to the lake for his first-ever swim. 

As summer draws to a close, I'm not going to fret that I didn't take my kids on the most expensive trips or plot out every day with a different activity. We had fun, in ways big and small.