When Rooted asked me to write down my thoughts on “how to summer with kids” I have to confess: shame from all of the ways in which I failed to make the best of our time in summers past crept into my mind.
As someone who really enjoys routine, summer with kids has always been a struggle for me. I’ve read articles written by super-moms who list 25 classics that a kid should read in each grade, or moms who switch from their typical Bible-centered family devotionals to a Catechism focus for summer. While those ideas may have inspired some, they just left me with one more idea that I knew I’d lose steam for by week three. Right now I’m staring down summer thinking of how exhausting it is going to be to wrench them away from screens over and over again.
So while I won’t give you a formula that will result in your 9 year-old enjoying The Secret Garden in the hammock, or your 12 year old’s theology enriched by the Heidelberg catechism, I can share a few things that have helped us enjoy unstructured time with each other during the summer.
Freedom From Being the Perfect Parent
First, be honest with yourself and with our Lord Jesus Christ. The gift of unstructured time with my kids was a gift that I didn’t originally receive with joy. In fact, it was a gift I’d love to exchange for a routine that involved them being with other responsible adults for a given amount of time each day. After honestly taking up my complaint with the Giver and digging a little deeper through prayer and journaling, I realized that at the root of this dread was perfectionism and a fear of failure.
I’ve been told that the Lord gave me these children because I am the very best mom for them, and that being a mom is the most important job in the world. That pressure got to me. I felt like I had to have an Instagram-worthy day prepared for them each day and that I better not let this time go to waste. In light of the fact that the Lord knows me better than I know myself (Psalm 139:1-6), I was able to tell him honestly about my dread, my fear, and my inability to sustain ten weeks of wonderful growth experiences for my kids. “They’re yours,” I told him. “Help me to serve you by enjoying them and leading them to you, which is really what I want the most.” It was and still is a freeing prayer, one I return to often.
Some Practical Thoughts
Now that my kids are older, each week looks different. Some weeks we have nothing, some weeks are structured around VBS, sports practices, or even this year – Driver’s Ed! So I’m taking it week by week. Instead of setting a high bar for family Bible study, we’ve chosen one passage to memorize as a family. There is a cash prize for whoever gets it done by August 8 – I’m not above bribery. I’ve involved each of my kids in making a list of places we mean to visit but never have time for during the year. Our zoo has 2 new tiger cubs. While my kids may think they’re too old for the zoo, no one is too old for baby tigers. We have a great pedestrian bridge over the Mighty Mississippi, so we’ll walk that and be able to say “we walked to Arkansas this summer.” The Civil Rights Museum is a treasure and it’s been too long since we’ve been.
Around the house we find plenty of opportunities. My children often complain about my cooking, so I’ve told them that if they come to me with an idea of something they’d like to have and give me an ingredient list, I’ll do the shopping and they can cook for a night! I’ve also had each of them list activities they can do around the house when I tell them that their brains are sufficiently fried by screens for the day. There’s nothing novel on there, just things that they seem to forget that we have around: we have a big rope swing. We have bikes, scooters, and a safe neighborhood with friends nearby. We have legos, magna-tiles, board games, books, paint, and friendship bracelet string. We have a basketball hoop, soccer goals, and a badminton set. They’re not thrilled with these suggestions, so when they complain I remind them that “boredom is the birthplace of creativity and genius” and tell them to figure it out.
An Unexpected Grace
Lastly (and this is not just a summer thing), but reading aloud has been a saving grace for my relationship with my 10 year-old. It seems like a no-brainer, but we have torn through some great books together. The past couple of years have been a struggle and a strain on our relationship. I know kids his age are supposed to be reading lots on their own but that was a battle I decided to let go of. I read to him nightly (more now that we have time during the day). It started out forced, but now he often begs me to keep going. His teacher even gave me her blessing to count this toward his required summer weekly reading minutes.
We’ve torn through the Chronicles of Narnia, the first four Harry Potter books, The Hiding Place, and are now finishing up Unbroken. Next up: The Boys in the Boat. I hear that reading to our kids instills a lifelong love of reading. I do hope that’s the end result, but even if it isn’t, this has been such sweet time for us. Some days the moments that I’m reading to him (often while he’s soaking in a bubble bath) are the only pleasant moments we share. So while this is something we can do year-round, we’re doing a lot more of it in the summer.
So yes, make your lists, mix things up. We might actually dabble in catechism this summer – probably Rooted’s Gospel Catechism, though, and not Heidelberg. It feels more approachable in this season. If unstructured time is your jam – soak it up! If you’re like me, though, and you’re eyeing the coming weeks with a tinge of dread, remember that these kids belong to the Lord. It is a gift to have them, a gift we don’t always feel up to the task to receive well. The Giver knows that, and he’ll supply everything we need for what he has called us to do. “His mercies are new every morning” (Lam. 3:23) and we mommas need them every morning, particularly in the summertime.