Does this look familiar? Tomorrow will make it one week until my two oldest sons are officially out of school for the summer. And I love it. I love the looser structure of our days, I love how little time will be spent on the computer and my phone arranging carpools and making sure backpacks are ready with all the right supplies. I love giving my kids a window into what my days are like while they are away at school and getting 10 weeks to soak in the ways they've changed and matured since last summer. Who will be a late sleeper this year? Who will become this summer's worst prankster? Who will want more time alone?
As much as I enjoy our time each summer, I won't deny that it can feel like a lot. A lot of noise and chaos and some days, managing the personalities and energy levels of three boys is enough to give me whiplash by happy hour. Each year I ask my boys if they want a "Camp Summer" (meaning more time spent at organized camps) or a summer at "Camp Mom" (a couple organized camps but otherwise just home with me) and I'm always surprised when the resounding response is to stay home with me and keep our summer open and free. Of course, any parent will tell you that whether you have one kid or five, "open and free" is a relative term. A few years ago, in a state of depletion and annoyance at the state of my house and my day, I nailed down the parts of having kids home that I struggled with the most: constant breakfast uncertainty, lack of tidiness/extra mess from water play, art projects, etc and indecision about what we wanted to do each day. Once I knew what bugged me the most, I had a chat with the kids and told them that as much as I loved having them home and wanted to make their summer great, it was also my summer, too. I explained that I, too, needed a break from the demands of the school year and sports schedules. That I wanted to spend my time having fun with them, not being the chauffeur, short order cook and maid. And I was really relieved that they understood where I was coming from.
Once we had a common understanding, we all agreed that we could come up with a little bit of structure that would allow us to keep our days fun while also keeping their main camp counselor sane. We decided on the things we liked eating/doing the most and then detailed the basic household chores that absolutely needed to be done, summer break or not. It became a given that we would take care of our chores before we set out for the day and for my part, my big compromise became to do any of my work during "off times" - during screen time, at night, weekends, etc. If you are a work from home parent you know how hard that can be. And surprisingly, once we had this little grid marked up, a huge sense of weight was lifted from all of us.
I get that this may seem neurotic to some but as someone who thrives on consistency and structure I can't be my best parenting self if I don't maintain a bit of order. Another perk to this idea is that it allows me to really cut back on driving during the summer. We live in Golden, a smallish town just outside Denver and are within walking or biking distance to all our basic needs, which is really important to me. So two days per week we do our best to stay local and out of the car. The remaining days I can tie in errands to our activities, saving on gas and time spent wilting in a hot car.
Below are some other summer survival tips for all families, regardless of your childcare plans:
- Create a summer bucket list then write each item on a slip of paper. Fold them up, put them in a jar and when time allows, pull one out until you get to an option that is doable that day.
- Make up a summer reading list. I usually base ours on the next year's school curriculum or something they loved from the previous year but didn't get to spend enough time on. Stuck on ideas? Ask your teachers! They generally have great suggestions at the ready.
- Choose a list of books to read together. For younger kids, read the book together, for older kids get two copies then discuss.
- Pick a summer classic - a book you return to each summer and reread. I did this my entire childhood and still feel giddy when I get to crack open one of my summer favorites.
- Make a list of friends they want to be sure to see over the summer. This one is a biggie - I'm always shocked when the summer winds down and we're all sad that we never spent time with certain friends, adult and kid alike.
- Plant a garden! Even if you only have time or space for containers, caring for a few flowers and watching the progress of a zucchini brings kids a sense of responsibility and purpose.
- Find a list online or create one regarding activities and chores that MUST be done before screen time is an option. It takes consistency but once this habit is formed it makes life so much easier.
- Create a snack cabinet/box/jar and designate a snack drawer or shelf in your fridge. Keep it stocked with foods the kids can grab and eat without asking or needing to fill a sink with dishes to prepare. Plan on filling it almost daily and you won't be disappointed.
- Be in charge. Relaxed summer vibes aside, someone still has to steer the ship and make sure a baseline of civility is maintained. I don't bat an eye when my kids want to wear the same clothes for a week straight but pulling borderline cruel pranks on a younger sibling out of boredom will not fly. Don't be afraid to step in and reinforce rules or correct behavior. Keep in mind that it's what teachers do all. day. long the rest of the year. You can make it two and a half months!
- Remind your kids that it's nice to have them home, even if they have a summer largely full of camps or daycare. Embrace the feel of summer and carve out pockets of time to jump into their world. It really is true that the days are long and the years are short. Kids love summer for a reason - generally the same things that drive parents crazy but it's that sense of possibility and freedom that kids need now more than ever. Learn to tune out the sound of dogs barking, hoses being turned on and screen doors slamming and tell your kids that you're excited to spend time with them. Even if you work full time remember what it was like to be a kid, with the whole summer stretching out in front of you, a seemingly endless stretch to be filled however you wished. Later bedtimes, barefoot sticky from the day's popsicles, running through sprinklers and heading out into the streets on your bike with friends, no destination in mind, just the feel of the open road. It's a feeling we all deserve to revisit each year, regardless of our age and adult responsibilities.
Have some tried and true suggestions of your own? I want to hear them!