Every year my kids and I look forward to summer vacation and a break in the busy school year schedule. The first few days off feel like paradise. Then the kids get bored, and I get irritated with them. I don’t want to over-schedule them—that’s the beauty of summer vacation, right? Nor do I think I should be tasked with constantly entertaining them. I can’t seem to get the right balance of down time and structured time in the summer. Any suggestions?
I know that feeling of paradise. No crazy mornings dragging people out of bed, eating breakfast in the car, fighting traffic and carpool lines. The kids are happy at home, sleeping in and no school for about maybe two days. Let’s just get irritated with them now and schedule them. I say the best way to do this is with 30 percent of their input—what they envision for their summer. Find out how your spouse is going to support your efforts to keep them entertained and then consult with your friends and family to see how you can all work together.
A lot of what parents plan in the summer depends on work flexibility, affordability and compromise. I usually gave my kids two weeks off from structured activity right after school ended. I made time to hang out with them by going to the movies, parks, having their friends over and going to the pool. We also planned things to do around town, in Washington, D.C, New York or Philadelphia. I don’t like to drive long distances so riding the bus, Amtrak, MARC and the Metro made for great adventures. They could bring friends or I would convince my girlfriends to come along with their children.
After that they were usually in camp at least four weeks, and sometimes six. Camp tired them out, making it easy to send them to bed.
Hiring a high school student (senior) who can drive and take them places—the zoo, pool, movies, etc., for one or two weeks also works.
I also suggest seeing if there are family members they can visit for a week here or a week there. That gives you some summertime rest. One year my friends and I rotated entertaining the kids during the week to change things up.
It’s important to not let all of the structure fall away. There’s that summer reading and math that cannot be put off until the end of the summer. That has to be scheduled and it works best to compromise on this—let the kids choose the time of day they will do this and make them stick to it. Instead of making it a daily task, let it happen three days of the week throughout the summer.
By the time they are in middle school, there will be sports and work to keep them busy. Yes, make them work.
For now, if you can give them some of what they want, that’s all you can do. Give them one or two great memories from each summer they will cherish forever. Later you will all laugh at the rough spots. There’s no magic to the balance. Just don’t sweat the small stuff—it will be hot enough.