My kids have been out of school for a month now. My stack of parenting magazines is covered with titles like, “Summer Fun!” or some variation of that sentiment. Is it just me, or are those titles mocking us moms? Sometimes the idea of summer fun seems nothing more than a half-baked dream I had before kids when my head was full of unrealistic expectations. In reality, my summer doesn’t always feel fun. With 4 kids all relearning how to get along, it can feel like a lot of work.
I admire the mothers of largish families who tell me how much fun having a large brood is, but I often wonder how I’ve missed the boat here. For me, adding more children has translated to increased pressure. After laundry, cleaning, phone calls, bills, finding time to write, picking up all day, and a hundred other tasks, I often feel like any joy has been squeezed right out of me. Throw in a dozen tantrums and some tween sassiness and I’m done. I’m not saying there aren’t hilarious moments, there totally are and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there are also increasing demands and responsibilities. When I get stressed, fun feels like the first thing to fly out the window.
So the question I asked myself before this summer began was, “How can I better balance work and play without losing my mind?” Since we added another child to our crew over the winter (Lord if you’re listening, we are good now thanks!), I knew having a plan in place for fun would be even more essential this summer. So here are a few guidelines I came up with to keep my work/play meter in check:
- Care Less. With 4 kids in the house generating dishes, laundry, and mountains of stuff, summer is a great time to care less what my house looks like. Messes are temporary and memories of merriment are forever.
- Take Breaks. Without school to give me a daily breather (my hats off to homeschooling mamas everywhere) I need to make an effort to take breaks in the evening or on weekends. I might do something crazy like grab a Starbucks and sit in silence or wander aimlessly around Target.
- Be Silly. Even if my natural inclination isn’t silliness, I make an effort every day to act a little immature. My favorite silly behaviors include dancing, joking around, and finding little ways to make my kids smile. Of course, some awesome moms will take this to the next level like the pinterest picture I recently saw where stairs were turned into a slide using cardboard. I think I’ll pass. That would end badly in my house.
- Slow Down. During summers the older kids have reading time each afternoon. One day on a whim, I decided that instead of trying to get things done while my little one was sleeping and they were reading, I would sit down for 30 minutes and read too. It was refreshing and I’ve been doing it ever since.
- Enlist Help. Many high school kids are looking for babysitting jobs during the summer. I have a weekly play date with my older girls while my younger ones are home playing with a sitter. It’s a win-win.
- Release Control. I sometimes have a misguided desire to be Wonder Mom, so this summer I’m giving some of my workload away. Turns out, my kids are a lot more capable than I imagined. They’ve learned to help me cook, handle their own laundry, and they’ve been drafted into my army of deep cleaners armed with nothing but a box of baby wipes. It may not get done perfectly, but they are learning to be part of a team in the process.
- Add Structure. Having fun with kids often requires planning on my part. I write down some things to do throughout the week. Whether it is a surprise outing to a favorite place or something as simple as playing a game, I make a plan and stick to it no matter what work is piling up around me.
Last summer, we announced that we were going to spend the morning on a family bike ride. After what felt like 5 hours of whining, preparation, and hassle we finally hit the road. When at last we arrived, it was a glorious ride that everyone enjoyed. An older gentleman passed by our biking clan, smiled and said, “You’re doing great mom! The family that bikes together stays together!” His encouraging words were a gift. It was worth the effort to play that day. It always is. The projects can be put on hold, the work will still be waiting in the wings come fall, but today it is summer. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” This summer, I’m doing my best to stay cheerful and not let my bones dry up in the heat.
How about you? How does your family have fun in the summer?