As I watched my girls leave for the bus this morning looking weary and worn out, all I could think was, “same, kids, same.” I’m tired. I can feel it in my bones when I fall into bed at night. We all need a break, a second to recharge and regain our footing.
The school year is hard on everyone. This year especially, we’ve had to make some big adjustments since becoming a family of five in December.
We were as prepared as two people could be to have a baby. What we were not prepared for, what we never considered, was how exhausting it was going to be to blend the needs of a baby with the big, full lives of a 12 and 9-year-old. The last five months have been pure insanity.
So I welcome the summer months with their slightly less stressful mornings and relaxed schedules. I am trying to create a routine that gives everyone a little more margin (including myself), and an opportunity to chill out and relax guilt free.
As modern parents, though, we know the challenge is finding the sweet spot between keeping the kids active (I don’t want them spending hours in their rec room playing video games) without over scheduling them. And doing all this while working full time, trying to stay healthy, and maintaining some semblance of a social life can feel impossible.
The Good Old Days
I grew up a happy city kid. My summers were spent swimming in the public pool across the street from my house, playing kick-the-can with the kids on my block, and riding my bike around the neighborhood with the one rule being I had to be home when the street lights came on.
There was no summer camp at our country club or rigorous schedule of activities. Playdates weren’t a thing. If you wanted to play with your friend, you “knocked” for them. You just walked to their house and knocked on their door. If they were home, cool, if they weren’t that was cool too, you’d try someone else. It was an easy, fun, and carefree time.
My kid’s lives often feel so foreign to me. I’m aware of how drastically things have changed, and some of those changes are good. It’s progress. We’re really living the dream of each generation doing a little better than the last. But I also realize the importance of incorporating some of the innocence I experienced into their very big, hectic, privileged lives.
So we came up with a few guidelines for the summer to try to keep our sanity, while maintaining a regular work schedule, and hopefully keep our kids grounded and humble.
Our Family Rules for a Stress Free Summer
1. You Have to Do Chores Before Anything Else
We don’t give our kids an allowance. We’re paying tuition; we’re saving for college, they get everything they need and a lot of what they want, they enjoy healthy meals and lovely vacations. Their lives are downright magical.
Why would I also give them cash every week? In our opinion, there are other ways to teach financial literacy. So chores are something they have to do because we are a family and this is part of the deal.
If they want to have a fun-filled day, they have to do their chores, which include making their beds, clearing the table, unloading the dishwasher, putting their toys away and laundry … all the dreaded laundry.
The other day, we gave them a small basket of clean laundry to sort, fold, and put away. It should have taken them 20 minutes. It took them FOUR HOURS because they wouldn’t stop bickering and messing around. I think that was part of their strategy and were shocked when I didn’t help them. When they realized their friends were outside playing without them, they knew we meant business.
2. Lose Your Manners Lose Your Privileges
At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, kids these days are so fresh. I hear some of my daughter’s friends talk to their parents, and I want to send them for a week of manners boot camp with my mother. I wouldn’t be here on Earth breathing if I EVER spoke to my parents with that level of disrespect.
So when my girls try out some of this attitude on me or my husband, we have a two strikes you’re out policy. You get one warning to reign it in; then you’re done. Sass, back talk, sighs, eye rolls, will get you nowhere. We’ve already cancel plans they were looking forward to, unplugged and removed the Xbox for a week, and put them to bed at a ridiculously early time. Their lives are too blessed, and we work too hard to have to deal with ill-mannered kids.
3. Do Not Tell Us You’re Bored
If you tell us you’re bored we’ll make you do yard work. And there’s lots to do.
4. We’re Not Your Entertainment
I’m not concerned about entertaining my kids 24 hours a day. Unscheduled time is a good thing, given how hectic their lives are during the school year. Sure, we do a camp for a few weeks and plan some trips as a family, but if they don’t have something “to do,” we don’t stress out. You can’t use your imagination or rest your brain if your schedule is never-ending. And if they end up having a day when they are flat out bored, that’s ok too.
5. Do One Act of Kindness a Week
I don’t care what it is, but they need to something that’s not about them. Sometimes it’s writing a sweet note to a friend, or doing something kind for each other. They’ve raised money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, collected cans for the local food bank, donated some of their toys, and bought school supplies for schools and kids in need. We want them to realize the world doesn’t revolve around them and hopefully start a habit they carry the rest of their lives.
6. You Have to Ask for Screen Time
They have to ask permission to play video games, use their tablets, or go on their phone. I want to know when they are on it, and what they are playing but I don’t freak out over screen time. They swim and run and play sports all day long. Maddie is going into seventh grade and reads at a 12th-grade level; she’s up to all night reading. I’m not going to knock them for wanting to veg out for a while, especially since I love a little veg time too (hello, Bravo TV).
Our goal is to make sure it’s not the first and only thing they do. We don’t let them waste a beautiful day playing Minecraft, but I’ve found the less we make a big deal about it, the less they focus on it.
7. A Little Summer School Work Every Week
Our kids are sent home for the summer with math and reading assignments due the first week of the new school year. Doing an hour or two of homework every week is the only way to make sure they get it all done without having a manic rush the week before school starts. They meet with their math teacher once a week to help with their assignments (mostly because Bri and I don’t understand “new math”) and have to spend an hour on Friday mornings working on their projects, after chores, but before they can go out. We started this last summer, and it’s made all the difference in the world.