Summer is, by far, my favorite season. I live for the longer days, the sun warming my skin, the trips to the beach. Ice cream in the evening, cookouts, relaxed bedtimes… it all speaks my language. I love living slow.
So naturally, when my kids got older and entered school, I looked forward to summer breaks. Everyone needs the relief. School is long, grueling, and difficult for kids in so many ways. Their brains and bodies need a break, just like ours do (if not more)!
Fantasy is so much easier than reality, though.
Summer takes a lot of adjustment. Our kids are going from a rigorously structured environment at school, where every block of time in their day is scheduled for maximum efficiency. They know what to expect out of their days, and many kids (mine included) thrive off of that expectation.
I’ve seen that, for them, their systems go into a little bit of shock as soon as summer hits.
I so badly want to give them mornings where they can sleep as long as they want to and wake up at their own pace; where they can enjoy a leisurely morning at home, doing what makes them feel good, and not having to follow anyone else’s marching orders; where they can go outside and let their free time lead them. I love that, in the summer, they have the chance to choose how to spend their time.
This is all in theory, of course. All of that sounds absolutely lovely and like everything I would choose for them to experience in their much-needed summer break.
But I’m here to say that I’ve made the same mistake twice, and this year, I realized my error in time to fix it.
This way of living doesn’t come naturally for my kids. I have no earthly idea how or why: my husband and I were made for the slow, spontaneous pace of summer! But within the first day, they were both asking me for snacks every 15 minutes, fighting with one another incessantly, and nearly hanging on my legs complaining that they were soooooo bored.
You should know, also, that I am not a mom who is afraid of her kids being bored. When they share that sentiment with me, I smile and say, “Good!” I am all-in on the idea that kids should be bored, and that this is when creativity is fostered. And because of this, I came into summer armed with a library card, various crafting materials, and other fun things for them to get busy with.
It didn’t matter. This persisted for days, which turned into weeks. I’m serious when I tell you, I cried real tears a few times in those few weeks. I was done. I felt like I had dissolved into nothing more than a glorified referee, short-order cook, and entertainer. Every attempt I made at being a fun-summer-mom backfired.
And that’s a hard no from me. No thank you.
Having a summer devoid of camps or commitments beyond a couple of planned vacations and play dates is not where my kids and I thrive. It brings more frustration, sadness, anger, and negative feelings into our home than I am comfortable with. I am not the mom I want to be. This defeats the entire purpose of that lazy, free summer that I so badly wanted them to have.
My feelings on this topic, as with so many things in parenting, can be summed up this way: sometimes you have to let go of your ideals.
So what did I do? I, almost like there was a fire under me, with all the urgency in the world, hopped on my laptop and booked them each for some summer camps. I scrounged up what I could find left, and every other week I scheduled a morning camp for them to go off and enjoy. It would provide me with a 3-hour space to run errands, get my work done, and breathe, and it would provide them with just enough structure to know what was coming that morning, while still having plenty of time to come home, rest, and enjoy free time afterwards.
I’m not exaggerating when I say this has saved our lives this summer. The kids come home happy, excited to tell me what they did (all of the activities that I can’t provide them with- I’m looking at you, dodgeball!), and are genuinely excited to see one another, too. They fall into an easy routine of grabbing a snack and running off to play together, as though they have been apart for ages.
And me? I’m thrilled to see them. I’m rejuvenated after those few hours alone, so I more easily grab our pool bag and go have some fun, or take them out for frozen yogurt afterwards. I’m not spending my entire day playing referee to petty battles, or listening to them whine about how bored they are.
All of us are more prepared to make use of those lazy, free summer hours.
In other words, it’s the peace I was expecting and craving when I imagined our summer.
So I’m here to say that, despite the articles you may read on parenting websites about having a carefree, unscheduled summer, it’s not always the best for everyone. That is okay. As with everything in parenting, make the decision that makes the most sense for you. There is no shame in scheduling your summer; it may even be the key to having a break you all remember for years to come.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.