I Want a 1980s Summer For My Kids


1980s summer des moines moms blogWhen I grew up in the early 1980s, my mom would kick us kids out of the house every summer morning. The pool was on the agenda for each afternoon, but between breakfast and lunch, the schedule was wide open and it was up to me, my siblings, and our neighborhood friends to figure out how to fill it.

My mom didn’t organize playdates or activities for us. There weren’t charts or stickers or jars of popsicle sticks full of creative ideas for how to spend our time. Her only rule was: don’t come back in the house until lunch.

Summer days had zero agenda.

In fact, the only organized summer activities I can remember from youth were swimming lessons and vacation bible school. For the most part, it was three months of wide-open calendars, the days each blurring into one other because they all looked relatively the same.

1980s Summer Schedule

Get up.
Eat breakfast.
Go outside and play.
Come home and eat lunch.
Go to the pool.
Eat dinner.
Play outside or spend time as a family.
Go to bed.
Repeat for 85 days in a row.


My mom rarely checked on us while we played outside, let alone organize the activities for the day. We were free to roam the neighborhood, using our imaginations and creating our own fun. Some days that was easier than others. Sometimes the neighborhood kids came up with elaborate games or adventures. And sometimes we sat around arguing all morning about what we should do until we’d wasted away the hours and it was time to go home for lunch.

Flash forward 35 years, and now I’m the mom. Parenting through Summer 2017 is not as simple. There are endless activity options available, a heightened security threat, and the beckoning lure of technology.

In April, my husband and I capitalized on an afternoon car ride to sort through our summer schedule. We evaluated all the camps our kids wanted to attend, penciled in a vacation, allowed for vacation bible school, and realized if we committed to all of it:

Our kids would have approximately 4.3 free days of summer.

And that’s when I lost it.

I threw the calendar pages on the floor and started to rant. I was imagining days spent driving kids to activities and meals squeezed in between. I jumped ahead to August and felt the frustration of a busy summer spent rushing around, no different than how the school year feels. And I started counting down how many summers I had left with my kids before they had summer jobs or went off to college.

It was April and I already hated Summer.


My husband, in all of his brilliance, said, “What if we didn’t do any of that? What if we just DIDN’T?”

Before I could even object and try to explain why we HAD to do certain camps and activities, something rose up in my heart.

It was hope.

It was a vision.

It was my 1983, eight year-old self waving me to come join her for a 1980s kind of summer.

And so I did.

We tore up the calendar. We said no to most of the activities and organized events. We resisted the urge to line up plans to keep the kids busy, opting for boring days. The kind of days my kids initially hated, because their “boredom muscles” had rarely been used.  But, the kind of days my kids are learning to embrace because they feel so good to their souls.

A break from the normal flurry of the school year, this summer’s pace is different. No rush. No activity. No busyness. Only rest, freedom, and imagination at work. (And no planning, driving, or organizing for mom – hallelujah!)

It’s early, so my kids are still figuring out what a 1980s summer looks like. (Frankly, they aren’t very good at it.) But, I’m staying strong and trusting that at the end of August, we’ll start the school year refreshed and more connected to each other. And I’ll be smiling as I look back on our 1980s summer.


  1. Love this! That neighborhood and those memories are still my favorite from my childhood and I think every kid should have that experience! Thanks for taking me on a trip down memory lane!

  2. Love it! I loved my 1980s summers too and want to see my kids use their imagination and just have fun! As a person who loves to plan and be involved, I have to remind myself to not get carried away. Today is a 1980s summer day. The kids are playing right now and we had a neighbor call this morning to see if we wanted to come over and play in the sprinkler this afternoon. Add picking up a pizza for supper and maybe watching a movie to end the night, this Mom is enjoying her 1980s summer day too 😉

  3. I don’t know if where you live has free breakfast and lunch at the schools and some parks like West Des Moines does. If they do this is an idea. What I do is before I leave for work I get my son up. He gets ready and then he rides his bike down to the school. He meets up with his friends and they have breakfast and talk about what they are going to do that day. Then they might go somewhere or he will come home if he has chores to do. They all agree to meet up again for lunch at a park. Then usually after lunch they will head to the pool. They spend a few hours at the pool and he usually gets home about the same time that I do. We make him text us each time he leaves a location with where he is going, We have been doing this for a few years and it works out great.

  4. Love this! And as an fyi, do a google search on the safety of kids now versus 1980. There really is not a “heightened security threat” unless you, your husband or another relative or friend harms them.
    Stay strong and keep them off the technology for the summer also.

  5. I loved your article!! My summers in the 70’s and 80’s were looking forward to what to do outside, and going on vacation with my Grandma and Aunt. Of course as I got older and had summer jobs my time was slowly limited with fun, but I loved it. Thank you for the reminder!!

  6. This was right on point!! Some of the best times come from boredom and just finding something to do on your own… creativeness and imagination need to be brought back!! Good read cuz!!

  7. That was my childhood in the 60’s. We played every game imaginable, rode our bikes everywhere, slept out in homemade tents made from sheets, organized neighborhood fairs to support the muscular dystrophy association (us kids- not the parents)) and had a ton of adult free kid time.

    Then when we raised our kids we opted to homeschool partially for that very reason. Living on an acreage we gardened and rode horses and raised animals and baked bread and took day trips and read aloud a ton of books. I so miss those glorious, unencumbered days!

    Now as a grandmother I am again choosing a simpler, saner life for myself and am happily watching my daughter make the same choices to let her kids be kids (sans organized sports and tons of lessons and planned activities) as long as possible.

    Great message Christine!

  8. We are doing that and loving every minute of it! We sleep late and stay up late with nothing to entertain us but each other. My kids will know how precious this time is, when reality of life sets in during their adult years. I hope they will feel as lucky and I did to completely ‘veg’ out all summer. Thanks for reminding us.

  9. This is great in theory, but not practical for homes with two working parents. We still have to pay for care and supervision (my kids are young). I wish they could sleep in and be bored, but we don’t have that option.

  10. I had pretty much the same 80’s summers, and they were awesome. Add to that nightly games of “kick the can” or ghost in the graveyard” until it got too dark to see.

    But I can’t imagine that will be possible for my kid now, unless one can get all the other neighborhood kids to join the same plan and schedule. It doesn’t work without other kids to do it with, and all the other kids are off at gymnastics camp and French camp 🙁

  11. Brilliant! This is the summer I remember. At the time my family lived in West Des Moines and we were always riding bikes in the neighborhood, playing at someone’s house, and on occasion not returning home until dinner!


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