It seems like everything that makes summer special has been canceled or restricted—summer camp, youth athletics, pools, amusement parks, fairs. This summer will look and feel different than any summer we’ve had before. As I stare down another day with nothing to do, nowhere to be, I worry about how we’re going to get through it.
Summer break is typically a busy time for our family. The reprieve from academics is packed full of practices, playdates, pool sessions and athletic events. My 12-year-old always seems to be making plans with friends while my 5-year-old runs through a variety of summer camp activities to keep busy.
As a mom of three, accustomed to the fast-paced lifestyle that characterizes our culture’s worship of busy, I have reveled in the slowing down this pandemic has forced on us. Yet as I look towards summer I fear the endless empty days will overwhelm me.
How can I continue to enjoy the slow pace of staying at home without my children dying of boredom and taking me down with them?
This summer we won’t be filling our days with activities morning, noon and night. We won’t run ourselves ragged until, before I know it, I’m headed back to Target to buy school supplies. This summer feels like both an insurmountable task and an incredible opportunity.
When the days stretch endlessly ahead with no obligations to fill our time it feels almost suffocating. I look at my blank calendar and it seems this emptiness has no end. Leaving the house only sparingly causes the days to blend together and time feels altogether meaningless without the structure and rhythm school provided. We’ve only had a few weeks of freedom and already I’ve lost all sense of time. I never know what day it is or what to expect from myself or anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled the school year is over. Virtual school has hands down been the hardest part of quarantine thus far. Supervising my sixth grade and pre-k students’ academic requirements while also caring for my infant was an overwhelming task. During those grueling weeks, I longed for the days I wouldn’t spend peering over my preteen’s shoulders ensuring he was doing his work or arguing with my daughter about attending her Google classroom. Here we are without a care in the world and I’m terrified.
This summer I plan on focusing on relationships and routines. This doesn’t mean I’ll be waking everyone up at dawn to sit in a circle singing about how much we love each other (although that does sound nice) followed by a strictly scheduled day of academically enriching activities. It does, however, mean I will prioritize relationships above all else and our days will have a sense of rhythm and predictability.
My kids need to know what my boundaries are, I need to know what the boundaries of our home are. Do we have unlimited screen time? Do we have to spend a certain amount of time outside? Are there projects we hope to work on? How will we keep our bodies active in lieu of organized sports?
In order to create an environment built on cooperation, my children need to know I care about them. Spending time with them one on one each day and allowing them to choose a favorite activity, will pay off in the long run when it comes time to enforce the boundaries we create.
I hope to let my kids be the guide for what our routine looks like. This is supposed to be a break after all. To enjoy it we need to know the parameters of our days but we don’t need to be stifled by schedules either.
A bit of freedom, a bit of rhythm is what this summer is calling for.
If my son wants extra screen time, can he add in some extra reading? If his friend wants to go on a bike ride in the afternoon can he spend his quiet time later in the day? My kids will be more likely to comply if they know I’m willing to compromise and if they feel a sense of flexibility within the parameters we set.
This summer needs to feel like a break, we’re all desperately in need of one. I know though, if I don’t give my kids some structure this may end up feeling just as stressful as virtual learning and that is the last thing I want to happen. I want my children to have the freedom to explore and enjoy their break, without free-falling through our favorite months of the year.