It's the week before school gets out. End of year concerts and parties at school, making sure you didn't forget to sign your kid up for camp blah blah blah, and hoping like hell your babysitter doesn't find a better gig in the next two weeks.
As if this isn't enough stress you then start thinking about what summer will really look like around your house. You cannot escape the visions of dirty socks strewn about, dishes from preservative-laden snacks piling up in their rooms, and glazed eyeballs that might glance up at you as you walk in the door from work. "Please tell me you haven't been on that thing all day" you'll say.
I always start the summer out with a "grand plan"—at least in my head. This summer, we'll go to the library every week! They'll do chores and learn to be responsible contributors to the family! They'll discover that building stuff from scrap pieces of wood can be just as fun as Minecraft! And—if we're really lucky—they'll start their own little business and deposit some money into that savings account we haven't touched since they were baptized.
It's going to be MAGICAL.
A couple of summers ago—while in this crazed, dreamlike state—I sat down with the boys and created a summer bucket list with things like picking berries, discovering a new beach and volunteering. Each Friday (which, fortunately, I have off from work during the summers) we were supposed to pick one thing from the jar.
They NEVER happened.
I felt like a failure. The funny thing? The boys didn't even care. It was then and there that I realized I was setting the bar too high. We needed structure, but mostly the boys just liked their free time.
So ... Here we are again. I'm trying really hard not to think too much about how this summer will play out. My Type A brain screams: "There must be a plan or it will fail, fail, FAIL!" But the realist in me—and the knowledge that comes with being a mom for nearly 13 years—knows this is just plain silly. Yet I also know that when limits and expectations have been set, kids do better, and it creates a more peaceful home. And it is my job, after all, to keep them healthy, safe and responsible.
Thus, in an attempt to keep things simple and straightforward, I've listed five things important to me for our family this summer. These aren't about summer camps and how to fill up their days with activities so they don't drive me or our babysitter crazy. They are just some basic standards—or rules, so to speak—that we'll aim to establish early on. Your list might look a little different, and that's OK. After all, your child's unique needs, sibling dynamic and family values are different from mine. Whatever you choose, please don't pick too many things or set the expectations too high. Just like I did with our Summer Bucket List, you risk setting yourself up for failure. Plus, you'll probably freak out your kids when you share it.
1. Limit screen time and set up restrictions.
This is something I'm passionate about. While technology can be an incredible tool, it can also have devastating effects on children and families. And while I know these things—and try to limit use and have restrictions in place—I still suck at the follow-through. Honestly, I'm already exhausted from the screen time battle, and it's only getting worse with twins who are turning 13 in June. That's why this is No. 1 on my list.
I did some research to see what the experts suggest for amount of time by age ,and it turns out that old "no more than two hours a day for kids over the age of 2" recommendation from pediatricians is outdated. Now, they encourage "life-balance" and "everything in moderation."
(Gee ... Thanks. Like THAT'S helpful.)
Anyway, I did find some good, basic tips that seem relatively easy to implement:
• Create tech-free zones, such as no use in bedrooms.
• Consider the content when setting limits. Time spent watching YouTube videos, for instance, should be counted differently from time spent on math apps.
• Set up restrictions on the devices. You can do this easily on the device itself—or consider purchasing technology like Circle Disney, which allows you to manage several devices remotely.
• Limit or prohibit use until they've fulfilled the other things on their list.
2. Be active.
For my three athletic boys, this really has never been much of an issue. But given the opportunity—especially without limits on screen time—they will become lazy. All kids need physical activity, for their minds and their bodies. If you struggle with motivating them, simply set the expectation that they won't do something else they really enjoy—like video games—until they've done something active. If you can afford it, sign them up for a few camps, and encourage them to try something different. My youngest has been playing soccer year-round since age 6. This summer he'll try lacrosse, wrestling and Ninja Warrior Camp.
We're also one of those terrible families who own a trampoline. Trust me when I say my children are probably alive today because of it.
3. Stop the "Summer Slide."
We've heard about the "Summer Slide," when kids lose much of what they learned during the school year during the summer months. There are two main areas I feel kids should keep current: math and reading. Getting them to read is usually painless, as long as they're given some books that interest them. If that doesn't work, consider bribery or peer pressure by starting a Book Club. This will be the third year we've done a book club with their friends—and it works! Read how here.
For math, we've tried a couple of strategies. With my older boys, we used Adapted Mind. This offers a free one-month membership, so you can try it out first. For my younger son, who struggles a bit more with keeping up with the ridiculous levels of math they are teaching these days, we sent him to a math camp offered by our school district every day for two weeks. He hated it, but finally admitted it did help him feel more confident starting the new school year. This year, I opted to purchase summer math packets through the school. They came home from school angry, but when I explained it was going to take them AN HOUR A WEEK, they backed off. Slightly.
I also plan to have them do some writing this summer—because, well, I like to write, and because they are barely doing any in school anymore. What they do bring home makes my skin crawl, and I don't want to be that mom who will constantly correct their grammar over text messages when they're 35. Because I will. I picked up fancy journals at Home Goods the other day. Fingers crossed it will inspire them!
4. Work, work, work, work, work.
You know this Rihanna song, right? It's the catchy tune I play over and over in my head when I'm walking around the house doing everyone else's shit. Recently, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Deborah Gilboa (known as Dr. G on the TODAY show), speak at my client's annual conference. She talked about raising her four boys and how they each do their own laundry, take turns making family meals, and do chores EVERY DAY. She inspired me to be a better parent by making them more competent. While I did leave a small chore for each boys most days last summer, this year I'm definitely kicking it up a notch. If you're wondering what your kids might be able to help out with, this chart might give you some ideas. I'm also hoping the older boys start doing some more work outside of the house. They're hoping to get cellphones this summer and have already been told that if they want the cellular service to be activated, they're going to have to pay a portion of the bill.
5. Communicate the expectations.
If you're still reading this and thinking to yourself, "Yes, yes, yes! I'm soooo going to be a #badass mom this summer!" it's time to create your plan. Choose the things that are important—and sit down and share them with your kids. Explain that your expectations come from a place of love and aren't designed to be punishment. Talk about how the process should work, what their days will look like, and that there will still be plenty of time for fun. Mention bribes—I mean, rewards—and ask for their input on what will motivate them most. Make a list of your daily expectations and have them check them off as they go. Last summer, I started with a fancy chart with points and rewards and ended up with something much simpler—like this.
Now that you're feeling all #badass and inspired, go forth and conquer!
Will your plan be perfect? No. Will following through always be easy? Hell, no. Will you be feeling as on top of things and in charge come August? Probably not. But like all things in life, having a plan is better than having no plan at all. Kids, especially these days, need parents who set rules, teach competency, and give them opportunities to fail and to succeed.
So carry on, you #badass mom! And don't forget the sunscreen.
Photo courtesy of Mindy Peterson.
Written by Jill Carroll, marketing manager at Serendipity Media, publisher ofWest Michigan Woman magazine. Jill resides in Cannonsburg with her husband, George, and three boys.