It’s summer vacation time for school children. And what will they do all summer?
I see lots of criticism of the highly scheduled regime of our youth and children today, with their summers stuffed with camps and organized sports and other enrichment activities.
This criticism is generally coupled with nostalgia for long, lazy summer vacations.
My own memories bring back days of essentially unsupervised play, roaming from house to house, creativity — and sometimes trouble — abounding. Unfettered by fears of skin cancer, we acquired suntans with abandon.
No weight worries — we were all so active and so much on the move and could and did walk or bike long distances to each other’s houses — again unsupervised — that the idea of watching what we ate simply had no meaning.
Yes, I have those idyllic memories, but am aware in retrospect that those kinds of memories may be restricted to a somewhat privileged few.
My mother did not have to work outside the home, and her mother, my beloved Granny, also lived with us. They offered gracious hospitality to anyone who came over.
I also lived in a safe neighborhood with lots of adult daytime presence.
And that’s just not the case for most people today. Two-income households are now an economic necessity, not done to have more luxuries, but to keep basics available.
And when school is out, some of the biggest challenges of both single-parent and duo-income families spring to life. For while my childhood and early youth summers were unsupervised and relaxed, there were always caring adults nearby.
But those days of one-income, mommy-stays-home were a bubble, and applicable only to the middle class.
Poor women have always had to work.
This bubble was a tiny time blip in the history of families, child-rearing and economic realities.
And it was never the biblical model, for families, as much as many would like it to be.
The actual “biblical” family model, other than the story in the garden, which is not about family but about the roots of our alienation from God, differs radically. For survival reasons, families functioned more as economic and political units than anything else.
Households were extended clans, and were composed of the patriarch (the elder brother), his wife or wives, younger brothers and their families, servants and slaves, all with roles to play for economic health and survival. Marriages, generally all arranged, were carefully calculated for political advantage.
Wives were to bear as many children as possible. Children were expected to become contributors to that economic health from an early age. Child labor, in near-slave conditions, has been by far more the norm across the span of history than our current much kinder and more indulgent model.
However, a far less safe and pampered childhood still exists for the very poor and those living in disadvantaged and or dangerous neighborhoods or in Third World countries with masses in poverty.
Under those circumstances, children’s lives were and are scheduled, but not with play and enrichment activities.
Instead they faced and many still face grinding work. Their labor and contributions were and are necessary for life and survival.
So, keeping in mind current realities, here’s my suggestion: Let us not bemoan the loss of those long, lazy, unsupervised play-filled summers, but recognize that children today are living in a very different world. Everyone needs to adapt.
Instead of criticizing parents who have their children’s time scheduled to the max, how about supporting them? How about recognizing that there is not some perfect model to which we can all strive for marriage and family?
The nature of marriage and family life has always been in flux and those who are rearing children do seriously need a village around them.
It is such a tough job, one for which most people really are not prepared.
But having said this, I admit I, too, wish children could experience what I enjoyed. But that day is now gone.
THE REV. DR. CHRISTY THOMAS blogs at www.christythomas.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.