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Why summer is the perfect time to press the “family reset” button

Children on Deck

Time Stops Photography | Getty Images

Jessica Watson - published on 06/22/17

Sometimes my kids need to see a different side of Mom: one who is more present.

My youngest likes to forget his shoes. On our way to anywhere — generally when we are going to arrive without a second to spare — he will ask, “Do I need shoes for here?” The answer is always yes, but that has yet to stop him from skipping to the car in bare feet — and not realizing this might be a problem until we are nice and far from home.

Family Dinner

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On one of our turn-around-because-there-are-fewer-shoes-than-feet-in-the-car evenings I was particularly cranky. You know that mood when you’re moving fast and talking fast and you lash out too easily because you haven’t taken the time to collect yourself and be present? That was me. And if I were present I would probably have noticed that someone wasn’t wearing shoes and that barking orders wasn’t helping us get out the door on time.

As I tossed shoes towards the back seat and pulled out of our driveway for the umpteenth time that day, my son asked a question that immediately centered me. “When soccer is over will it be time for Mommy Week again?”

What you do when there’s nothing to do

Mommy Week happened last summer. When we were finished with our school year, but my husband was still strapped with a more-than-full-time work schedule, I took the kids to my parents’ cottage. Just the four kids and me. I was a little frightened about the drive and the daunting task of entertaining four demanding little people for five days straight.

I shouldn’t have worried. They got along for most of the car ride (at least that’s how I remember it nearly a year later) and we spent days going for walks and finding our way to the bottom of the board game pile. I burnt dinner and we laughed; we got stuck in the muck trying to push off in a kayak and we giggled. Once I completely underestimated the length of time it took to walk around the lake, so we made a dramatic show of trekking home, the girls complaining, my boys making them laugh by pretending they saw a mirage of candy stores giving everything away for free.

There were many “mom fails” on our little week away, but I actually enjoyed them. We all did. Without the need to rush anywhere or remember shoes, my kids and I connected in a way I envy as I look back on it this busy time of year.


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I hadn’t intended to make Mommy Week a yearly tradition, but my children have. They love their sports and plays and music lessons, sure, but they love board games and lazy mornings and a mom that isn’t living by the calendar just as much, if not more.

We are now one week from the beginning of summer, and as I hear other families scheduling their summer to pieces, I feel a little twinge of doubt over cancelling the majority of our activities. Do they need more to do? Will they be behind in their favorite activity in the fall without summer practice? Will we all climb the walls and drive each other crazy without planned days?

But when that lingering doubt creeps in, I think of my son, wiggling his feet into forgotten shoes as I pull out of the driveway, asking for more of me, even when I’m right there.

We often hear people talk about how important it is to “press the reset button,” and I feel that reset button just as important for kids as it is for us. In The Happy Kid Handbook, Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, writes: “Kids need time to be kids — to play, write, draw, sing, dance, and be silly.” She goes on to add, “Although kids might enjoy various team sports and art classes, it’s essential to provide them with plenty of downtime to explore the world around them.”

Time out means restoring connections that can fray during the busy school year

When we reset our cell phones or toys or big screen televisions, there is often a message to remind us that the device will return to original factory settings. I like to think that’s what we’re doing with our summer. As a mother of kids far past their newborn days, I think back to their infancies with fondness. We were always curled up together, whether I was lulling them to sleep or praying they would be quiet long enough for me to shower, there was a connection between us that seems to stretch and strain as they grow.

I have always assumed my desire to return my kids to their “factory settings” was mine alone, but maybe it’s theirs too. Maybe the best thing I can give them this summer is not a schedule packed with activities but a conscious effort to hand them more of me. Whether in the form of a “Mommy Week” away or simply asking how they would like to spend their summer days, I plan to reset us all this summer. And I don’t have a single concern about pressing that button. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.

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