Our kids long for summer. The end of the school year is always hard – for everyone. Kids are ready to escape the structure of school, parents are ready to escape the endless concerts, recitals, banquets, etc. that all get scheduled in those final weeks of school, and teachers are ready to escape the kids and their classrooms.
We all strive for the end of school and the freedom of summer. No schedules, no structure.
As parents, we still have to keep everyone fed – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between – and try to keep them all happy and healthy with the right amount of play, planned activities, fun with friends, and limited screen time, while we continue to shoulder all the normal responsibilities that we handle all through the rest of the year. Add in summer travel – for us – an endless string of short and longer trips so that everyone gets some one on one time with mom and dad, the grandparents, and alone time away from their siblings, and one month into summer I’m already longing for school to start again. Ok, not really. But it’s been a thought when my kids are constantly bickering and somehow can’t be in the same room for more than 20 minutes at a time.
There are times – and this happens during the school year, too – when I literally pack for one trip, come home for a couple days and unpack, do laundry, and pack back up again to leave for the next trip. This has been my normal for the last several weeks. After taking the oldest on a solo trip the first week of summer, during which time the youngest two split the week with both sets of grandparents, no one got along when we got home. So, following a quick weekend trip with all kids to meet up with dad, we decided to split everyone up completely for the trips last week. The youngest went to grandma and grandpa’s house for Vacation Bible School, the oldest stayed home with the other grandparents to work and work with her horse, and the middle came with mom and dad. My biggest hope for the next couple (three?) weeks of summer fun at home is that we can all just enjoy life!
As parents, we all live with the reality that we never get time off. In summer, that is amplified by not having schedules and having to try to keep some structure for the kids while also letting them have their free play and fun. I do try to limit screen time for my kids – with limited success sometimes – to around 90 minutes a day. If they watch morning cartoons, I don’t let them watch movies later, and I even went three whole days last week with no TV at all! I have a list on my fridge of activities that the kids can do whenever they come to me saying “I’m bored…” and usually I get a whole litany of “I don’t want to” and then they go play something else.
In the past, I have had a teenager helper during the summer months to keep the kids busy and take them swimming or to other activities while I get some work done a few days a week. This year, I am thankful for a somewhat helpful teenager of my own – some of the time – and kids who are finally old enough to keep themselves occupied for 30-60 minute stretches. I am trying to fit my work in between making sure they get healthy meals, spacing out the pool days with riding bikes and scooters and play in the sand box or swing set. And we have baseball, dance, horse shows and volleyball camps, we’ve already finished one set of swimming lessons and possibly one more week planned in July. In our small community, the pool has swim lessons and water aerobics classes in the mornings and open swim in the afternoons, which makes it easy to head over there for a couple hours in the afternoon and still manage to get some work done before and head to the baseball fields after…and then figure out dinner.
What are your summer activities? Do you send your kids to a sleep-away camp? (We don’t, although the teenager has done several college sports camps in the past and will do more). Do you have a favorite summer destination? Do you take road trips? Go camping? Beach time?
While I’m definitely a people person, and I enjoy all of the busy-ness of our life, I also need down time and I look forward to the times I can just be home, catching up on chores at the house and having a day to enjoy my kids. We love to get away to the mountains when we can, summer or winter, but our happy place is really at home, enjoying our flowers and our yard (and the work that goes with it) and sitting on the porch to enjoy the evening breeze when we can. In the winter, we do try to get away to the beach for a few days, but summer time is for fun at home and travel for work – mixing in a day or two here and there for family time when we can.
I just asked each of my kids what their favorite thing about summer was. The youngest? Swinging on the swings. The middle? Swimming. The oldest? Sleeping in. Kids love just hanging out and having down time at home. And it’s good for them! It’s good for us, too. We all need to relax and recharge ourselves.
My summer memories from childhood include swim meets every weekend, beach time in New Jersey with my grandfather and all the uncles, aunts and cousins, Girl Scout camping trips, and playing with friends. In high school, I babysat younger kids and I worked for a boutique that also sold swim gear at all the swim meets. In college, I was a lifeguard and pool manager for a couple community pools. Summer always had its own schedule. We were busy, but less structured than school and we had fun. I want that for my kids.
One of the reasons we live in our small town is to give our kids the freedom to be kids. That is what summer is all about. I work from home and have my own business so that I can continue to give my kids that freedom, and it is definitely a challenge sometimes to keep up with work with no consistent schedule week to week. There are times I don’t open my computer at all for a day or even a week! I do manage to get a good chunk of work done on my phone, every day. I’ve said before, my phone is my office. I also try to balance that with trying to put the phone down and give my kids my full attention – recognizing that if I’m not letting them have devices then I need to lead by example. It is hard!
I do use the iPad, iPod, Wii or LeapPad as a reward for them…or I take the devices away if they’re fighting. I’m not above bribery. I’m also not above turning a movie on if I really need to get something done on the computer. No one is perfect, least of all me. Recently, I’ve also separated them into their rooms for a timeout. I make them clean up all messes in order to get whatever reward they have asked for next (swimming, as it happens, today; other times playing with friends or going to grandma’s house).
I also know that while sometimes the days are long, the years go by fast. I am trying to live in the moment – or in the week or month – and enjoy the season, enjoy the stages that each of my kids are in. These years are so short. I do not take them for granted!
So, know that I am struggling through the summer parenting challenges along with all of you. Earlier this week, I just couldn’t make myself make dinner and ordered pizza. I give in and make my kids mac n cheese at least once a week. My son takes after his dad and doesn’t like breakfast foods, and I have been known to let him have spaghetti for breakfast.
Take time to enjoy the fun that comes with summer. The rest will work itself out.