Who else is looking forward to some wonderfully lazy days with the kids this summer? You know, those days where you can put your feet up, kick back with a book and enjoy a cocktail while the kids play nicely next to you?
Ha, just kidding! That’ll never happen.
I mean, I wish! But the only way that fantasy might become a reality is if we somehow trained our kids to be mini waiters who brought us those cocktails. And even then, they’d probably see a seagull, get distracted and run after it—and we’d end up covered in strawberry daiquiris.
The same goes for a perfectly planned day at the beach…or at an amusement park…or at a friend’s house.
The truth is that while summer with kids might be amazing and fun and pretty damn great in many ways, there’s nothing at all relaxing about it. Not while they’re awake, anyway. Also? Things rarely go according to plan.
So, what to do? Ditch your summer script, hold on tight to your sunscreen, cocktails and common sense, and dive in to whatever comes your way!
Occasionally keep them out late for an awesome activity, but…know that it’ll take them a few days to get back on schedule. Sure, I love an early bedtime like every other parent on the planet, but I’m also a big believer in letting fun experiences trump a perfect schedule. Going to a free concert in the park that doesn’t start till 8, staying at a BBQ in the ’burbs way too late, letting the kiddo catch fireflies with his cousins—all experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything, even an easy, non-grumpy day tomorrow.
Make the most out of your days, but…don’t push your kids too far past their limits. It’s hot, they’re running around more than usual, and you might be in an unfamiliar place. It’s all fun and games, as they say, until it’s tears and tantrums. That’s why you need to be realistic about how long you think your kids will be able to go without melting down. They don’t nap anymore? They might want to all of the sudden, so factor in some rest time.
Do your best to get them to eat the fruits and vegetables of the season, but…let them eat ice cream for dinner once in a while. One of my favorite summer memories is making root-beer floats with my dad. And guess what: I lived to tell the tale.
Pack the essentials, but…remember that you’re not leaving civilization. This is a rule that I try to live by, mostly because my diaper bag started to weigh more than my kid. If you forget the snack or the bug spray or the all-important toy, you’ll be able to find something somewhat similar that’ll get you through the day. And kids need to learn to be flexible, anyway, right? Right.
Bring their favorite outdoor toys, but…don’t go crazy. There’s something to be said for this variation on the old phrase: Have shovel, will travel. Bring the bare minimum, including one or two kid-dictated essentials, and focus on the experience, not the stuff. If you’re at the beach, for example, make sandcastles, search for shells, jump the waves. Simple fun is often the best, most memorable type of fun.
Have a few big things lined up for summer, but…be spontaneous. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m a planner. But I’ve learned that it’s really important to go with the flow sometimes. You had planned to go to the pool today, but your kid is fascinated with rocks for some reason? Go to the park on a scavenger hunt and run around in some sprinklers instead. You’ll have a much happier kid—and a much easier time getting out the door.
Protect your kids from the sun, but…no buts about this one. Pink cheeks may be cute, but they still signify sun damage. And red cheeks? They’re just dangerous. Keep young babies out of direct sunlight, and if you’re going to the beach, bring some literal coverage. A friend once brought tent for my 7-month-old and a baby pool that fit in it perfectly...which I thought was a little weird until about three minutes had passed. It was a brilliant, age-appropriate idea for keeping him safe, out of the sun and occupied. And with all kids (except for those under 6 months old), apply sunscreen, reapply and then reapply again…and then plop hats on top of their heads. Yes, they may squirm and protest, but let them know that Mom means business: Sun protection is non-negotiable.
Be aware that kids are going to act their age, and…don’t stress about it! As long as respect and safety are still firmly in place, all of the other rules of life are made to be broken in the summer. When things don’t go according to plan and you don’t fight it, you’ll open yourself up to a wonderful, truly spontaneous summer with the most fun people in your life.