I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom since becoming pregnant with Baby #2. A lot has happened over the years since resigning my paying job: a new house, a dog, breast cancer, 1.5 to 4 kids, and the normal daily chaos of life continuing its churn. Strangers like to tell me I “have my hands full” and that I’m “always keeping busy,” and I suppose both of those are true. Some days, I’m the Poster Child of Patient Parenting. Other days, I’m the Spawn of Shoddy Showmanship. I’ve accepted that family life is more work than I ever thought possible, but there are days when I must know to step on the gas, and also days to let up and coast a little.
Nothing, I mean nothing, brings craziness out of our pores like the realization that summer break is close at hand. I blame this in part on standardized testing. While only one of my children is old enough to be directly affected by its impact, the entire school community pops like a water balloon when the older grades are past that hurdle. Then it’s The Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff’s Summa, Summatime in full effect, baby.
The weather changes, and daylight is noticeably longer, so bedtime becomes a renewed battle. Spring sports and activities kick into high gear, and after school hours are at a premium. Seasonal allergies make some of us miserable and extra-medicated. Field trips are announced by teachers who know the students need a change of scenery, and said field trips are chaperoned by parents eager to get that last bonding moment in before school lets out.
Summer…knowing it is on the horizon will make or break you as a parent.
We parents tend to fall into three categories when it comes to kids and summertime: those who embrace it a little too vigorously, those who loathe it with obvious contempt, and those who fall somewhere in the middle, trying to savor it while kicking to stay afloat.
These parents create Pinterest boards with names like “How to Keep Busy Kids From Taking a Breath”, “Don’t Let Math Grades Slip,” and “Kids’ Summer Goal Setting.” They start mapping out daily schedules—inclusive with chores, screen time limits, personal hygiene expectations and academic work—while waking up to frost in February. I saw a post recently for professional, laminated, spiral-bound journals where kids can spend their summer recording personal and scholastic reflections DAILY, meant to focus their minds before the upcoming school year. These parents schedule a family vacation for the beginning of summer break, and one for the end as well. The vacations have itineraries designed to make every minute as meaningful and action-packed as humanly possible. In between trips are weeks loaded with specialty day camps and a myriad of evening activities until sundown. “Fun” is perceived as to mean “no break in the action.” There is very little down time, and hardly any free, unstructured creative play. These parents are fun-sponges, sucking the life right out of summer. Their greatest fear is those two, dread-inducing words… “I’m bored!”
As soon as the ball drops on a new year, these parents are cognizant that summer isn’t far off. That’s when their complaints begin to be voiced and their victimhood is sealed. They dread the idea of entertaining their children, and scowl so much during the warmer months that their frowns are tan-lined onto their faces. If they stay at home, they feel put out by spending every waking moment with their kids. They tend to sulk and remind the children that they are parents, not cruise directors. They reminisce for “the good old days,” when kids roamed the streets from dawn til dusk unsupervised, playing outside, never touching a TV remote, and embracing the heat, bugs, and boredom of total freedom. If they work, they complain about the costs of summer childcare and the loss of what the school calendar provides. Vacations are a strained, obligatory experience. Their Facebook statues are memes about needing booze before breakfast and a countdown to the first day of the new school year. These parents are jackhammers, pulverizing the fun before it can ever begin.
These parents appreciate and recognize a family’s need for organization and daily expectations. They know scheduled activities like camps and clubs are a great way to inspire new interests, practice emerging skills, and engage young minds. They know that “Summer Slide” is a real thing, so academic stimulation should have its place. These parents also see the benefit in the lazy days of summer, where creativity and imagination have a chance to materialize without prodding. Sure, your child may start the day asking to watch Minecraft videos on You Tube, but after a while there can be a reprieve to browse the public library or ride a bike up and down the sidewalk alongside a friend. Some structure, balanced with windows of free time, can bring relative peace to the household. Responsibilities are expected to be met and freedom is an earned right. Vacations are centered around destinations that the entire family will enjoy and anticipate. These can include day trips and visiting relatives for long weekends as well as far off novelties and adventures. These parents are wind chimes, some days loud and persistent, and other days barely audible.
Here are a few of our ideas to match the ebb and flow of summer:
- The local library’s summer reading clubs for all ages of the family. The best way to inspire a reader is to be one yourself.
- Free Science in the Summer Camps
- Free and $1.00 movies at movie theaters (usually a consistent weekday every week)
- Kids Bowl Free, a national program that allows each registered child to bowl two free games every day from May to August (and for parents to get in on the deal for a small nominal fee).
- Local Summer Concerts Series in public parks
- Membership at the local zoo and conservatory
- Free Barnes and Noble’s summer reading club
- Religious camps, like Bible study, and faith training
- Local YMCA swim clubs, speciality camps, activities, and events
- Day trips to State Parks and historical sites
- Nature walks and hiking trails
Doing too much or too little benefits no one, and us caregivers of dependent children would be wise to remember that. Ideas like the list above are helpful to keep in our back pockets for days our little ones need a break from routine or some stimulation. It wasn’t too long ago that breast cancer zapped the energy from me to do much of anything with my kids. I will be making up for lost time with them this summer, whether by encouraging them during activities they love or by allowing them time to image and create their own what-ifs . And the occasional cocktail for me while they enjoy a milkshake won’t hurt, either.