Summer break is a wonderful, fun time for our kids, but for us moms, it can be a daunting, exhausting season of life that by day 7 makes most of us want to shut ourselves in a closet and cry into a pint of ice-cream. If you are a stay-at-home mom, it can be harder. If you have multiple kids with multiple ages and activities and camps and schedules, multiply it. Add on top of it too much sugar, late bedtimes, and too much screen time, and the season that you really hoped would be a fun, family bonding experience turns into a living nightmare.
As a stay-at-home mom who has lived this season with multiple aged children over many years, I’m here to give you the insights that come from my personal experience, veteran moms who have lived it, and ideas gleaned from mommy books and podcasts I read and listened to over the years. But mostly just learning the hard way.
Step 1: Big Picture Planning Early
I like to start prepping for summer about a month before. I grab a calendar, usually a big desk calendar for the kids to see, and I write in all the big stuff (the major vacation times, the couple big events we grabbed tickets for this summer, etc). Having a big picture approach at first helps me see where breaks are needed and where I need to fill in the gaps.
For example, if the major road trip beach vacation takes place mid July, I am going to block out a couple days before for packing and prepping AND a couple days after with NO major plans because the kids are worn out. I don’t want to rush home after a two week intense vacation only to send my kid to another activity the day after. They need that down time to reset.
Also, see where the gaps are. If you have a long stretch of no activities, block that time off in your head as a great time to add fun local activities as the time gets closer.
Step 2: Plan for YOU
This one is the one that I fail at the most consistently. If I do not plan enough down time for myself, I will become the stressed out, angry mom that hates summer and guess who that trickles down to? My kids.
What do YOU need as a human being?
One tip I have is building in quiet times each day to reset. The kids relax in their rooms (or for my 3 year old – naptime) and I get to relax in mine, usually with a cup of iced chai and a book. It’s my time, and theirs, to reset.
Maybe you need time away from the house. Hiring a sitter for part day or full day once a week can help with getting some you time, or, if you are lucky, enrolling all your kids in the same camp or activity that you can drop them off at and pick them up helps.
Sometimes the easiest (and cheapest) way to do it all is finding a gym with childcare. Many gyms will watch your kids for 2-3 hours while you work out, swim, sauna, hot tub, or just sit in a chair and stare off into space followed by a long shower with no interruptions. No judgment here. On top of that, they often have summer activities for the kids and if you don’t have access to a pool, you can do pool time before or after your childcare hours.
Step 3: Plan WITH them.
After I’ve big pictured it and carved out me time, it’s time to get to the individual kids. Each child is going to both NEED and WANT something this summer, and summer is an amazing time to both connect emotionally with your child as well engage them in certain things that they may not get during the rest of the year.
If you have a child who has OPINIONS about what they want to do and are older, I like to sit down and ask them – what do YOU want to do this summer? This can be anything from an ice cream date to Legos to learning about something they’ve always wanted to learn about. My oldest loves to learn and create. So usually this looks like finding something they want to learn about (China, a historical event, ship building) and starting by going to the library and grabbing a bunch of books about it. Then, usually, we will find some kind of creative activity that goes with the topic, like building a model ship with popsicle sticks, and then visit a museum that brings it to life.
Summer is also a great time to develop executive skills based on age. For my oldest, it will look like a routine of making his bed and picking up his room before starting a fun activity or helping with a chore. For my younger ones, it might be learning to put on a shirt or tie shoes. These are all things I just don’t have time or energy for during the rest of the year.
Step 4: Plan for Failure
That’s right. There will be sickness. There will be cranky kids, cancelled activities, or rain on pool day. It happens. Plan NOW for what to do when that happens. Maybe that is popcorn pajama movie day where everyone gathers with their blankets and stuffies and piles together in front of the TV. Go ahead and take a few of their toys that they’ve forgotten about, store them, and bring them out again. Oh my gosh, Spirograph! Kinetic sand! Oooh! Ticket to Ride and Throw Throw Burrito! This costs zero money because your kids have totally forgot they own these things. I’ve had “fail days” that have turned into some of my kids favorite vacation memories.
In the end, whether your summer is unstructured and relaxed, structured and packed with activities, or even just at home survival mode, there is no wrong way to do it. Make summer work for you and know that your children will cherish these memories, no matter how big or small.