Every May I make this grand plan of what our summer will be like. We make a family bucket list and get all excited. Then as summer break gets closer I enter the freak-out stage. I come up with elaborate schedules and routines so my house won't get trashed and the kids will still have some structure in their lives. I vow that my kids will wake up and get their work done before play or screens, and that they'll go to bed early, even when all the kids are out playing in the cul-de-sac.
Then June hits, and most of my carefully laid plans go out the window. Usually this is a good thing. Summer is a good time for both me and my kids to practice flexibility. Every summer is different, between vacations, activities, and just the fact that everyone is a year older. And every summer, I learn things that will make the next one more successful. Here are five things I learned (the hard way) this summer:
1. Don't overschedule.
This summer, I was not going to fall into the trap of bored kids with too much time on their hands. I also wanted them to be good and tired by the end of the day. So I signed them up for swim team, tennis, and tutoring. They were also still doing piano lessons once a week.
The first week of summer break, we hit the ground running--right into a wall. My oldest son revolted and refused to go to swim team. I decided it was not worth the daily fight and let him back out to focus on tennis.
A few weeks later, all the activities converged on the same day. My third son just shut down, and after spending all morning swimming and playing tennis he refused to go to both tutoring and piano lessons. Writing it down here, I can see why. Who was this crazy drill sergeant hijacking his summer vacation?
Plus, our mornings were so busy with swimming and tennis that the kids didn't have time to do their daily chores. By the time they came home and had lunch, they were exhausted, and were certainly not going to help out around the house.
Luckily, we still had July. Swim team ended, I didn't sign up for the second session of tennis, which left just tutoring and piano. Most importantly, we got our mornings back. My kids are way more productive in the morning, so they'd clean up, do their practicing and homework, and then they'd have the rest of the day to play (usually).
After I learned this lesson the hard way, a mom named Wendy gave me a great tip--she leaves the first month of summer break mostly unscheduled, so they can all enjoy the vacation. Then, as the fun of the unstructured life wears off, she schedules more activities in July.
This is what I'm planning to try next year--a laid back June with unscheduled mornings. Then we'll see what we want to do in July.
2. Lock the Pantry.
Two summers ago, I read the book Bringing Up Bebe, about parenting in France. The biggest revelation to me about French parenting was how they handle food. No snacks! Healthy, balanced meals! Starting each meal will a vegetable course!
I read this at the perfect time. My kids were going in and out of the pantry all day. There were crumbs everywhere, despite our "no eating outside the kitchen" rule. No one was hungry at meal time.
So I eradicated snack food from my house. I made three good meals a day, and we didn't eat in between. Even though I was cooking more, I was actually spending less time in the kitchen, because the kids were not constantly dirtying dishes. And there were no cracker crumbs in the TV room, because there were no crackers.
The problem with this approach was that whenever we needed to pack a picnic or eat at the pool I didn't have things I could just grab and take with us. It took a lot more planning.
This summer, I kept to the plan of no snacking between meals, except for fruits and vegetables, which I tried to keep handy on the kitchen table a couple of times a day. Most importantly, I bought a lock with a code for my pantry, so I could still keep snacks on hand for times we needed food on-the-go, but the kids weren't constantly pilfering through them.
3. Keep their expectations low.
My big idea for this summer came from a post on Power of Moms, "A System to Prevent Fights Before they Start" by Alissa McClure. She assigns each child a day and that kid is king/queen for that day. They get to run errands with mom or dad, and always gets first pick or the first turn.
I decided this would be a fun thing to start this summer, and we started with a bang. I took each kid out to get a treat on his or her day, and we had a great time. And that was my first mistake. The first day of the rotation was so fun, that every week they expected something big and eventful. Because of the busy schedule you read about in the last section, I just didn't have the time to go on a one-on-one outing every day. The end result was a lot of begging and entitlement on each kid's day.
In hindsight, I still like the idea of focusing on a kid individually and rotating through. If I do it again, maybe the treat outing will be the culminating event and not the kick-off. Sometimes it's good to set low expectations!
4. Summer break is short, summer is long.
Even though summer break can be crazy and hard, it has a finite ending, and you can do anything for two months.
And once school starts, you can still have summer fun. I guess this one depends on where you live and what the weather is like, but sometimes I find myself trying to cram all of our outdoor activities into the two months of summer break, as if there will never be enough time to fit it all in. But even though my kids are back in school in August, summer is still going strong. We can still have fun outside on weekends (after soccer games) and after school. And my three-year-old and I can live it up outside while the others are at school.
5. Loosen up about bedtime.
In my pre-summer insanity I was determined to protect "adult time" at night and to have my kids in bed by 8:00 each night. I even went so far as to suggest to a neighbor that we should band together and have a cul-de-sac curfew (sorry for the insanity, Stacie!). I held out for a couple of days. My poor children calling to the neighbor kids from their bedroom windows as they watched all the fun.
Then I realized that the only thing I accomplished by my stringent bedtime was that bedtime lasted three hours. They never actually went to sleep before any of the neighbor kids, and they missed out on all the fun. So I started letting them play outside, which in turn made them tired and helped them fall asleep faster. Lesson learned.
Next summer, I'll be able to start fresh, with these lessons under my belt and new lessons to learn.