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A Mama's Guide to Surviving Summer Break

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The first week of summer break sucks every single year.

I always vow to wrap my mind around the concept of all of my blessed offspring being home for every blessed second of all of our blessed lives but apparently I fail somewhere because it doesn’t feel very blessed about 10 minutes into the first morning as the fighting begins over PBS versus Netflix followed by moans of disgust at the sight of scrambled eggs and teenage smirks as the youngest squeals “CABUB! STOP IT RIGHT NOW!”

Where’d I set my coffee?

I know, some parents love the freedom and flexibility that summer break offers, but I am not one of those people. I love structure because structure in the form of a school building brings me a few peaceful hours of productivity and peace and productivity are this introverted mama’s best friends. Amen.

Every year, a week or so before the last day of school, I vow to do better. I vow to have more patience, be more intentional in my unique calling, have more grace and mercy and love – all of those good motherly qualities- but inevitably the stress mounts, especially during the first week as the kids revolt, their need for constant food and entertainment arises, they fight and bicker and moan and bewail their existence, and I turn and hiss at my husband in the dead of the night – or actually like 9 p.m. because we’re so dang tired –

“You can’t work anymore. You need to stay home and co parent for the summer. No individual is physically and emotionally capable of raising this many human beings for any stretch of time by themselves. And honey, four teenagers! Do you understand the complexities and the zits and the hormones? Are you listening honey?”

I hiss even louder –

“It would drive anyone insane!.”

Those are the words I say, and he smiles and lovingly replies, “Honey, you go through this every summer. It’ll get better after a week.”


NO IT WON’T! I wail and open my eyes balls really wide so he knows just how serious I am.

“Give it time” he smiles again.

Of course he smiles – he gets to go to work the next morning.

I usually enjoy the rural life that we chose – the peace, the birds chirping, the river, the beauty, the land our children get to roam upon and the innocence this life has provided. I enjoy it all until the last day of school, and then it begins to feel a tiny bit like the land is closing in on me, and the river is rising, and I’m trapped in a zoo where the birds never stop chirping (and yelling and screaming and fighting) and the coyotes are ready to tear me limb to limb if I don’t remain constantly vigilant, and in desperation I inform my husband that we are not living in the country any more. We are moving to the biggest city we can find before the next school year begins. NEW YORK CITY if need be, and I swear I’m not living in rural America for one more day, no sir, no how, I need options! I need restaurants! I need a coffee house and a park and easy access friends for my children and a Mrs. Jones who lives down the road who will dote on my precious babies and feed them snacks and allow constant video games so that their mother can enjoy a few moments of peace and quiet as she figures out how to survive summer break.

I have 8 kids. In our middle of nowhere. 8 children ranging in age from 2-15 and did I mention, four teenagers? One of those teenagers is my special needs boy Lucas who would rather watch videos all day long than go anywhere, and that’s pretty much okay, because it’s really difficult to get out of the house with him AND his seven siblings.

I chose this life but that doesn’t make it easy. I chose to have four children. I chose life for Luke my handicapped son. I chose Ryan and I chose to adopt his three kids. I chose a rural life, and I chose to have another baby but damn – those choices kick my rear end the first week of summer break as we all figure it out again, figure out how to maintain loving, somewhat tolerable relationships with one another in close quarters – relationships with respect and boundaries – relationships where we still like each other at the end of summer. There is a steep learning curve as the kids give up a huge chunk of their social life from school and a huge learning curve as I give up a pretty significant chuck of quiet work hours. Not to mention, the substantial increase in dishes and trash and diaper changes and grocery runs and meals (have I mentioned the meals)?

Every year I prep for the last day of school thinking that forethought will surely save me this summer break. I frantically implement great ideas for our many hours together such as our pool purchase a few years ago. I plan vacations. I sign them up for camps and volunteer positions and kids bowl free coupons, and Luke! Luke has consistent summer school for the first time ever this year and that will help immensely and honestly, it all helps! It really does. And we eventually get into the groove. We stay up a little later, and we sleep in. I begin to relax into what summer is all about and the kids do too. I kick up my feet and read a good book while they splash away in the pool. I shorten the to do list. I lower my expectations and then – just as soon as summer break begins, it comes to an end and without fail I realize, I survived summer break, and I turn to my husband and whisper in shocked acknowledgement –

“Honey. The kids and I have found our groove. They are really having fun together and doing their chores without me nagging, and helping with Luke and Annabelle and I kind of like this motherhood gig again. Maybe we should consider homeschooling!”

And he rolls eyes just like he does every summer the week before school begins again because he understands that the only reason we have all found our groove is because we’ve also found the light at the end of the tunnel. Those two miraculous life giving head lights that will soon be rolling down our dusty dirt road at 6:30 a.m, firmly attached to a big yellow bus that will transport 7 eager souls promptly back to school.

Ahhhhh. Structure.

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