Tips for surviving those last, unscheduled summer weeks with your kids. #1: Give up.
Summer break. If you’ve made it to the second half of July, there’s victory in that—though I’m not sure what defeat would look like. Maybe my children living feral, huddled under mounds of grass clippings they’ve been saving all summer and fashioned into crude huts, catching rainwater in used fast-food cups? There’s no doubt that summer sometimes feels like an episode of Naked and Afraid. There’s a real threat in the air that without the right schedule of stimulating activities, or at least a series of academic apps, we will all surely perish.
But parents, let me offer a reality check. By now, if we can still locate one of the 15 pairs of swimming goggles we bought back in June, I think we can consider our summer parenting work done. We’re on the other side of the kids’ week-long camps and day-long excursions. Our sunburns have healed. A few of the math worksheets were completed. (Even fewer were corrected and discussed with the kids.) Reading lists have been lost, but we’re still reading, so that’s a plus, even if it is the third time through Wimpy Kid or Sisters. We’ve sat through enough animated summer blockbusters that we should get a pass on seeing any other sing-songy children’s flicks forever, or at least until Thanksgiving.
We are in the “donut hole” of summer: those unscheduled weeks between camp or trips and the blessed moment when school starts. It’s a huge yawning blank space in the calendar—and we might feel a nagging guilt to reinstitute an early-summer-like discipline, to pull up the calendar and populate it with activities. Art gallery! Baseball game! Splash pad! Road trip! Anything but days stretching before us of bored, complaining kids.
How to teach your kids self-control
But what if we just … don’t plan anything? Haven’t we earned a blank space on the family calendar? And, wait a minute, don’t we need unscheduled days? Isn’t there a parenting study or highly inflammatory viral essay that says it’s right and good and necessary to let the kids roam free and beg for popsicles at the neighbor’s house? I’m pretty sure my pediatrician told me that today’s kids don’t get enough self-directed time, and if she didn’t I bet she would if I prompted her by asking, “Don’t you think kids need more self-directed time?”
And hey, if the kids don’t need it, maybe their parents do. Because the last thing parents want before back-to-school shopping trips and hours filling out immunization forms is to have Mommy melt down at an amusement park.
Yes, we’re in the donut hole of summer, that excess of time and dearth of energy between sweet mouthfuls of summer camp and fall classes. You know what happens when you try to fill the empty spot in the middle of a donut? Sprinkles get mashed into your carpet. Don’t mash sprinkles into your carpet—accept the summer donut hole. Make that your mantra until that yellow school bus arrives: “Seize the summer donut hole!”
Let the kids make lunch and don’t care that it’s PB&J sandwiches made with Pop-Tarts.
When the children are bored, you won’t hear them. In this liminal time of giveupedness, just lock them out of the house and leave juice boxes and Goldfish crackers on the front stoop.
Have ice cream for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, ice cream for dinner, and pizza for dessert.
Instead of a bedtime, institute a bedtime zone, a string of three hours between 8 and 11 at night when you don’t care if they are asleep so long as they are not making noises that you can actually hear. Like, gnat-level noise.
You can have a staycation, but with more “stay” and a lot less “cation” because you’re just not buying any more bubbles or sidewalk chalk or craft projects.
Play hide-and-seek with the kids, except maybe don’t let the kids know that you’re playing. Just sneak into the laundry room with a good book and snacks, fashion a nest of clean clothes to recline on, and see how long it takes the kids to figure out where you’ve gone. When they find you, tell them you’re glad they did because you have a few chores for them to do.
You can’t fight the kind of emotional and physical exhaustion that comes from more than 45 consecutive days of in-home parenting. You aren’t Mary Poppins. You’re Mom. And when it’s late July and mom sees that the kids are on the third bowl of cereal for the day, mom takes a hint.
Go ahead and nap while the kids watch TV in their wet bathing suits and leave food wrappers on the coffee table. You weren’t planning to clean up until September, anyway.