The school bell has rung and the kids are out for the summer. Their hearts are bursting with great expectations of non-stop fun, topped with popsicles, pizza, bowls of popcorn and unlimited screen time into the night, with no one telling them when to turn out the lights.
Parents on the other hand – working mom and dads and stay-at-home-parents alike – are dreading the sheer thought. After a year of hustling multi-tasking – lunch boxes, overextended planners, carpools shuffling kids from soccer practice to dance lessons, and endless oh-you-gotta-try-this-with-your-kids recipes and activities constantly shoved down their throats by other moms on social media – are overwhelmed, exhausted and utterly burnt-out.
Whether we’re willing to admit it on Facebook or not, summer vacation for the modern parent is more like summer punishment – a two month’s sentence with hard labor and no time off for good behavior. From the Full-On parents at one extreme to the Do-Nothings at the other, moms and dads worldwide are struggling to survive and battling over the best approach.
It’s a MAD* War.
(* MAD = Mommy and Daddy)
Whether driven by fear of brain drain (should their kids forget everything they learnt during the school year), desire to give their kids a head start for the new year, determination to keep siblings from killing one another out of boredom, or personal guilt that their kids’ response to the question, “So, what did you do over the summer?” will be lame in comparison to their friends’ and they will be judged as bad parents for not providing enough enrichment for their kids, Full-On families jam-pack their planners with back-to-back amusement and bounce from one special event to another in the attempt to keep their kids busy and happy 24/7.
Even for supermoms and helicopter parents, this approach is often unsustainable. Sure, between camps, workshops, water parks, shows and shopping mall entertainment the possibilities are endless, but at the end of the day they tend to be expensive, logistically complicated and limited in time leaving hours on end to be filled with more organized fun and structured amusement.
No wonder so many parents are pulling out their hair in despair and opting for the Do-Nothing approach.
For the Do-Nothings (aka “back to the simple life of the 70’s”), summer vacation means to chillax and let go. Once school is out, out goes routine; out go demands and obligations; out go organizing and planning. Vacation is the time to slow down, unwind and be lazy; go with the flow and just let things happen.
While Do-Nothing parents envision their kids riding bikes around the block; going on nature walks, playing curb ball with the neighborhood kids until twilight and cuddling on the sofa for some downtime: reading quietly or watching Disney reruns, for Gen Z, Do-Nothing means being left alone with their electronic babysitter to play games, watch youtubes successively, exchange selfies with their friends and send SMS’s to mom, when they want something to eat.
Any attempt to tear them away from the screen instantaneously turns into a wrestling match played to the tune of “Why do we have to? You always make us!” and timeout quickly escalates to teasing, whining, nagging, hitting and biting … until finally all hell breaks loose …
The thing is, kids, who are in the habit of having every moment of their day planned for them, kids, who have been conditioned to immediate gratification, kids, who are accustomed to being constantly entertained, not only develop a strong sense of entitlement, but don’t know how keep busy on their own, be creative and figure things out, when boredom comes their way.
Parents and kids most definitely need a break from school year overwhelm, but going cold turkey is not the most sensible way to go about it.
The good news is that there is a happy medium.
Whether you’re a Full-On parent or side with the Do-Nothings, by following the simple tips below you can give your kids a glorious memorable summer at a relatively low cost and without losing your sanity in the process.
Here’s how to go about it:
-- Start by creating a balanced routine. Kids need both structure and boundaries. Predictability – knowing what’s in store for them and how far they can push the limits – gives them a sense of security. When kids feel secure, they are less agitated and consequently better behaved.
A balanced routine is made up of a variety of pastimes: outdoor fun and indoor activities; free-play and guided tasks; time together and alone time; chores and downtime.
-- Remember that you and your kids are in it together. There’s a fundamental difference between being the summer camp entertainment director and working as a team to create family fun and meaning. This can be a biggie for many parents, myself included. Even when your intentions are good, the consequences can be detrimental. A super-awesome day, carefully orchestrated down to the finest details, can explode big time, because someone played computer games till dawn and is cranky … and crankiness, as we all know only too well, can be contagious.
So, rather than making all the decisions solo, doing the planning and preparations on your own only to end up dragging the kiddies out of the house kicking and screaming, by involving them from the start, listening to their suggestions, reaching a family consensus re: what, when, where and how and then delegating responsibilities to get ready together, you have better chances of cooperation and happy campers.
Sure, it will most likely be a rocky road and things probably won’t be done just the way you like it, but with time, it does get easier and the resistance subsides.
-- Take time to talk. Put your smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices away and have family chats. Once again, for families, who are used to communicating via SMSs and whose exchanges are minimal geared towards the logistics of life and getting through the day (I’m hungry! What would you like for lunch? Did you have a good day at school? Get ready for bed!), this can be a bit daunting at first. Kids lose their patience. They are shy about sharing and parents often don’t know what to say, but very quickly this simple activity becomes family fun. For starts, talk about your summer plans, set expectations and reflect upon what you have done: What made a particular activity fun and how you can in future improve those that were boring.
-- Be in the moment. As moms and dads we are used to multi-tasking. Rather than actually play with our kids, we watch them play, as we check what’s happening on our phones, fold laundry or make dinner. Instead, distinguish between “together activities” and “alone time activities”. If it is “a together activity”, make sure to be present physically, mentally and emotionally. If it’s “an alone time activity”, first make sure that your kids are able to perform the task without your help and then do your own thing alongside them.
-- Finally, let them have their screen time. There is nothing wrong with computer games, puzzles, video clips, and social media as long as it is in moderation and is counterbalanced by other activities. Who knows? You too may want to join them and have a go, or you can always use the time to do your own thing.
Whatever you choose to do, chin up!
The summer vacation will pass. It always does.
In the meantime, it's Time 2 Lead, because Leadership starts at home.