The hot weather is here and with it are summer parenting certainties that you’ll want to reacquaint yourselves with before the kids get out of school.
If you’re new to this parenting role in that your children and still babies, you might still be in the seemingly never-ending cycle of diapers and night-wakings.
These don’t change in the summer. Bless your heart. You might even have a grade-schooler or two, throw in a tween or teen and it really gets exciting.
For those who manage one or more kids, there are some unique challenges in summer that often catch us off-guard. As a mom of four kids, I’ve experienced a lot of different stages. Each year I remind myself not to set my expectations too high, and that there are things in this zone called “summer” that I can always count on.
Here are seven summer parenting certainties you need to accept to make it through and not completely lose your mind this summer:
Certainty #1: Summer can be long.
Whether you’re on a traditional, modified, or year-round school schedule, it’s good to remember that summer is long (it’s like 40 weeks or something, okay, maybe only 10 weeks). Even it if isn’t actually long, it always feels long.
The days are longer – literally – with about 14 or so hours of daylight in most states, which makes us feel like some days are never-ending. Many families put a hold on regular classes, lessons, and team sports. The days are slower because we aren’t running off to school, then lessons and classes. Time slows down a bit–in some good ways, and some bad ways. Time ticks by at a snail’s pace.
Because our kids are taking a break, sometimes we also can take a break from the normally packed schedule we keep during the school year.
Takeaway: Even though summer is long, take moments with your kids to savor the un-rushed, vacation-like time you have with them.
Certainty #2: Summer entertainment can be tricky.
As our kids get older, it often becomes nearly impossible to entertain and occupy the entire brood, all at the same time. Several summers ago, I found myself frustrated that my teen didn’t want to go to the city pool with us, or go to the park with the younger kids, or stray too far from the Xbox. I sprouted a few extra gray hairs worrying about this, then remembered back to my own middle school years. I wanted to be with my one best friend. Every day. Didn’t want to swim or do much else. I think we played Mario Brothers for 45 days straight. We actually saved the Princess, an achievement I was really proud of.
Funny thing is, I remember that being a really great summer. It’s a tall order, but as your kids get older, you need to chill and not be “Julie cruise director” so much over your tweens and teens. They are their own people now, let them be. Head out with your younger kids and have fun, then include the older ones for movie and game night, or do something with them one-on-one. It will be okay.
Another note – if you have more than two kids close in age, summer camps will lure you in. They will deceive you into thinking that it will be the cure-all for summer boredom. This is a lie. Often, booking your brood all at different camps (like I did last summer) will wear you out and make you wish you were at sitting in the backyard with your feet in a baby pool eating popsicles. If you’re the helicopter type (no judgment here), try a summer of free-range parenting, or at least a day or two a week where nothing is scheduled and you let the kids explore the neighborhood or a nearby park–without you. They will survive. They might even thrive.
Takeaway: Each of your kids is different, with unique desires and needs. Help them enjoy their time off without it stressing you out by giving them some autonomy to control their activities.
Certainty #3: Summer can be messy.
This is a big one for me. I like clean and tidy. Summer is not. If you’ve already forgotten – like pregnancy amnesia -our houses will be unkempt near-disasters while the kids are home from school. If the kids go to the grandparents for a few days, perhaps you can get your house all clean while they are gone. But don’t set the bar too high.
Of course, having an “all hands on deck” cleaning afternoon each week can be a great way to get the kids dialed in to help during the summer, but because they are home ALL THE TIME, it will not stay clean. Not even for five minutes. Ahhh, this certainty bothers me, but alas, I speak truth.
Instead of lamenting lost control over toys left in the family room or wet swimsuits left to dry in a pile on the closet floor, take a moment to thank God for these little mess makers – this time will pass soon enough and you will be begging them to leave legos on the floor (okay, maybe that’s hyperbole, but you get the point). With my oldest who owned more Legos than the Toys R Us down the street, he woke up one day at 12 and decided he no longer enjoyed playing with his Legos. Things change quickly, even before you are ready.
Takeaway: Clean houses come and go, but the memories you make this summer will last a lifetime if you let them.
Certainty #4: Summer can be screen-filled.
One of my best friends and I often lament each summer about the gross consumption of screentime by our beloved little angels. Pulling your child away from the grips of the boob tube, or iPad, or iPhone, or….oh my….there are just too many screen options, can be, well, difficult.
In our family, the younger kids haven’t ascertained the ability to sleep in yet, God loves them – they still pop up at 6 or 7 am and click on the TV. If I don’t catch them, they can consume several hours of TV before I even drag myself out of bed (I usually work late at night and sleep in a little later in the summer).
What seems to work for us is having “screentime days” and “no screentime days” – like Mon/Wed/Fri/Sat – it’s okay to watch TV or play on screens for a few (ahem) hours, then Tues/Thurs/Sun we mostly take a break from screens.
You can devise your own strategy that works for your family. Sidenote: while screentime the majority of the day isn’t optimal, no teenager has died from too much technology over the course of a few short weeks. They will soon be adults with work and stress; let them be kids while they are kids.
Takeaway: Most medical professionals say that two hours or less screen time per day is optimal. However, that can be tough during the summer with hot weather and bored kids. You know your children best – set limits that are healthy and encourage a variety of play – both inside and outside.
Certainty # 5: Summer can be hot.
Don’t forget (like I usually do) that summer is extremely hot and we are not at our productive best when our brains are melting. When it’s 107 degrees out, like it can be in Sacramento, don’t try to overextend yourself by traipsing all over town or taking extra kids to the pool. You just might lose your mind. It’s not worth it.
Pop in a video and call it a day. Eat ice cream for dinner. Nobody will die, I promise. Think of ways to cool off – be it a neighborhood pool party or trip to the air-conditioned mall for a brisk walk, cruise through the Disney store (tell the kids in advance if you’re not going to purchase anything), and a pretzel. Heat is no joke. It has the power to turn a regular mom into an Ogre Mom. Check your weather app and plan accordingly.
Takeaway: Summer is a great time to go with Mother Nature’s flow and forget the oven and serve salad and ice cream. Do whatever you can to keep that angry, ogre-like side of yourself at bay so that your kids aren’t scared of you (please tell me I’m not the only one).
Certainty #6: Summer isn’t perfect.
There is this crazy pressure out there for moms to make summer, like, “the best summer ever!” We make bucket lists, we ask our kids to make bucket lists. We outline all the amazing vacations we’re going to take and how it’s going to be incredible. We are going to camp with extended family and there are going to be no complicated political conversations! We are going to rock the water park 20 times with the season passes and it is so NOT going to wear us out.
Let’s just be real. Many moms do it all – the planning, the packing, the day trip prep, the sandwich making – and most of the time it is exhausting. We are all doing the best we can. You are doing the best job you can do today – don’t beat yourself up if you are tired and things are not going well. Your goal isn’t to create some kind of Pinterest-perfect summer experience.
Kids get sick, parents get sick, families go through crises. Parents have to work, Parents have trouble getting time off. Families struggle financially and can’t go on vacation. This is real life. Summer is no different.
Takeaway: Start out with the end in mind and pace yourself during the summer. Have realistic expectations and don’t set the bar too high.
Certainty #7: Summer can wear us out.
Just like newborn babies who hit those growth spurts at two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months, there are stages of summer: There’s the initial excitement, the initial round of boredom, the middle where things are finally going smoothly, two weeks before school starts when we are suddenly ready to be committed to an institution, and the end where we’re sad that summer’s over.
For me, the hardest point is hitting that wall a few weeks before summer is over. It’s still hot, I have to shop and buy shoes and backpacks and supplies to the tune of several hundred dollars, and I hit my “wall.” This is the time when staying positive and counting my blessings feels the hardest.
Takeaway: When we hit this “parenting wall” and we think we have nothing left, God is our ultimate parent who can parent us in the midst of parenting our kids. He can guide us when we are spent.
What additional summer parenting certainties would you add to this list?
Lauren Hunter is a writer who loves the big picture of God’s journey we are all on together. Married to her high school sweetheart, Lauren lives in Northern California with her husband and their four children. Her latest book is Leaving Christian Science: 10 Stories of New Faith in Jesus Christ.