In my 20s, I made a “mom rule” that each of my kids could only be in two activities each per season. At the time, with an energetic and driven son, it seemed like a reasonable rule. Somewhere in my 30s and the addition of two daughters, I erased the “two” and made it “three” activities. By the time our son, Hunter, was in high school any activity rule limits I created in my imaginary mom rule book evaporated. While our son is now an adult, my husband and I are tempted to sign up our daughters for two or three or 17 different activities, camps and lessons after 2020 when they stayed home all summer.

Last summer our girls gardened, growing the largest tomato plants I’ve ever seen on the North Dakota prairie, lush lettuce, carrots, broccoli, peas, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin and zucchini. They completed 4-H projects, and once a week, they attended horseback riding lessons on a nearby farm.

Instead of sports camps, they worked out daily with their brother, calling it “Hunter brother camp.” They ran from my parent’s farm mailbox to my grandmother’s mailbox and back again on the gravel road, about a half-mile route, while Hunter timed them. Fondly calling the activity “mailboxes,” the girls didn’t suffer from lack of activity or engagement in summer 2020.

Anika Pinke stands on the gravel road she ran on for summer exercise and activity in 2020. This particular evening she delivered garden produce to her great-grandmother. Katie Pinke / Agweek
Anika Pinke stands on the gravel road she ran on for summer exercise and activity in 2020. This particular evening she delivered garden produce to her great-grandmother. Katie Pinke / Agweek

We played countless hours of the board game Catan and the card game Monopoly Deal before bedtime. Anika, 11, and I still play Monopoly Deal several nights a week. In summer 2020, we shared far more weekends tucked away at our family lake home than in previous years.

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This summer — and all future summers — I am tossing out my mom rules. I don’t want to go back to overscheduled days and weeks. Yes, they’re signed up for a couple of camps, but I resisted the urge to say yes to every activity they mentioned and didn’t force the camps of my childhood memories on them.

Because I want gardening, board game and mailbox race memories this summer too, not just the one summer COVID-19 kept us at home.

We only have five summers, one whole hand, left with Elizabeth before she’s a senior in high school. And just seven summers before Anika turns 18.

Throw away the rules or standards you’ve set for yourself in the past. Your kids grow from shared experiences with you, your spouse and your family.

Do not feel you have to make up for what your kids might have missed in 2020 and 2021. As harried, strung out mommas, you don’t have to fall prey to the thief of joy and compare how you’re living out this summer with your family versus the social media highlight reel of others or even what your sister or neighbor is doing.

You do you, momma. You raise up your children in the best way you know how, with more open days and weekends on the calendar, free to you and your loved ones to fill with traditions or new experiences.

Katie Pinke's son, Hunter; nephew, Elijah; and daughter Anika, on the lap of her husband, Nathan, sit lakeside at her family's farm in rural North Dakota in the summer 2020. Katie Pinke / Agweek
Katie Pinke's son, Hunter; nephew, Elijah; and daughter Anika, on the lap of her husband, Nathan, sit lakeside at her family's farm in rural North Dakota in the summer 2020. Katie Pinke / Agweek

I’ve been on the parenting journey for 24 years this summer when as an 18-year-old I gave birth to Hunter. My first On the Minds Of Moms columns ran in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, OTMOM featured me, offering a deeper dive into my motherhood journey.

During the past 18 months, the pandemic wasn’t the biggest disrupter in our lives. In December 2019, Hunter suffered a complete spinal cord injury and now lives as a paraplegic from the chest down. In May, he graduated from the University of North Dakota. He’s moving to Tucson, Arizona for architecture graduate school in late summer.

This summer will be my last summer as a mom with all three of our kids close to home. It’s the end of an era, a closing of a chapter. While Hunter started me on this journey of motherhood and we filled our summer days with basketball and Bible camps and baseball games, having our daughters more than a decade younger than him gives me a fresh, clearer look at how I’ll journey on as a mom to teen daughters in my 40s than I did parenting in my 20s and 30s.

Here’s to your summer, finding your path forward with your kids. It won’t look like mine, your neighbor’s or your sister’s summer. Make it yours. Unplug. Plant a little garden. Attend a county fair. Pitch a tent in the backyard for an adventure. Next, adventure to a nearby state park. Find a new board game to become your family favorite this summer.

Resist the urge to fill the blank space on your calendar. One day, your children will leave the nest and what they take with them is the shared values and experiences you’ve taught and given to them.