(Contributed by Sarah Richmond. Read more about our writers here.)
In many respects motherhood has two annual seasons: school time and summer. A friend of mine always says the start of a new school year is the true mark of a mom’s New Year, not January 1. I think she makes a valid point, as it is the start of the next major season for our families, our routines, and schedules.
I tend to see the beginning of summer in a similar light–a mini New Year if you will. Our days change up. Early mornings, packed lunches, and homework downshift into lazy starts, hours at the pool, and backyard picnics well past bedtimes. Summer is a time to slow our pace, stay a little longer, and–with any hope–find some spots of rest to rejuvenate for another full school year just around the corner.
For certain, summer is an opportunity to loosen grips and breathe, but in my tenure as a parent I have come to learn as with most things, there is a balance to be found in order to accomplish my at times lofty goals of peaceful bliss with a suntan.
My instinct is to veer to one of two extremes. In an effort to create the “BEST SUMMER EVER!” I either over structure, uber-Pinterest our days until I am one burned out cruise director before the fireworks on the 4th of July roll around, with a gaggle of catered-to, entitled darlings sulking about using that five letter curse word…You know the one-it starts with a “B” and ends with an O-R-E-D. [Shudder]
On the other end of the spectrum, I can revolt against all the plans, schedules and activities and set sail on summer with intentions of free play, creativity, and relaxation. Again, it does not take long for the reality to set that my children never received the memo on all things CHILL OUT, and are spending more time bickering and raiding the pantry than I care to admit. So, yes, balance is key to this whole season of sunshine.
I read parenting books as a brand new mom (the type you read when your first child is still in utero, filling you with delusions of grandeur about having them sleeping through the night within a month and reciting poetry by their 1st birthday…but I digress). The author of one particular book started off with an encouragement I have never forgotten. Her theory was based on the idea of starting well–to begin this parenting journey in a manner in which one intends to go on in. Basically, start with intention and keep at it. The idea has stuck with me over the years and with every turning of the seasons of motherhood, I try to remind myself to begin with intent, because its it always easier to trim back or make adjustments mid-course than to dive in with absolutely no map, or compass…or snacks.
In the spirit of intention here are a couple of main keys to greater summertime balance my crew has learned to adopt.
Simple Chore/Contributions System: Over the years I have tried many a chore system (again, “Thanks, Pinterest!”), always trying to find something with some retention power. I do realize chore retention really falls into the category of long-term character building, but if there is a system to help us on our way, I am determined to find it.
For the past couple of years we have had moderate success with a simple method of popsicle sticks in jars. They are truly more like colorful tongue depressors, but you get the idea. Basically, I write a chore with the amount paid out for its completion on a popsicle stick, and the kids choose a stick and put it in a jar with their name on it upon completion. It is fairly simple, easily definable for a variety of ages, and overall has worked well for our family. Whatever the system though,having one in place not only builds stewardship while battling entitlement, but also helps my kids continue to develop money management and budgeting skills. And getting some extra help with those baseboards isn’t too shabby either!
Quiet Alone Time: We started having a scheduled quiet alone time a couple of summers ago, and it became a habit we stuck with throughout the year for my homeschoolers. On days when we are home, for two hours (yes, two whole hours) in the afternoon, the kids quietly (and without screens) read, play, rest, listen to audio books, etc. in their rooms, and here is the key – by themselves. Summer is a lot of togetherness, and we all can benefit from some intentional quiet. Moms, can I get an Amen?
More than just a break for the mama, though, we have found the kids get along better and attitudes stay in check more consistently when there is space from one another scheduled into our day.
These are just two of the elements that are somewhat essential for our summers to flow easier, helping me foster an environment of fun and not dread for the season. Perfect balance will probably continue to elude even after all my babies have grown, but it is an adventure in the attempts.
I would love to hear what you have found works well in your families – feel free to share your summer tips in the comments. And Happy New Year…er…Summer!
Originally Published 6/17/2016