Unlike most people, I don’t feel particularly devoted to change while ringing in a new year. While everyone takes a collective breath and pushes towards new goals and opportunities, all I see is the flip of the calendar and the blustery remains of winter. Summer, however, is what stirs my heart. The promise of little bare feet and sticky hands. Bubbles and popsicles and twinkling fireflies. In my mind, I crumble up our schedule, sigh with relief, and savor the weeks as life slows down.
The long days of summer are when memories are made. It’s also the eight weeks of the year when life is flipped perfectly upside down. For many families, routine is the glue that keeps their train running smoothly on its track. But June often brings the end of school and sports schedules. Time is filled with activities that both excite and exhaust, and often the culmination of these changes comes in the form of tempers and tantrums. Come July, how many of us lament the daily struggle of fighting siblings? While summer has its joys, the reality is, is that most parents long for August and the return to normalcy.
I love how the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “a time and season for everything”. The author saw the human condition and beautifully illustrated a lifetime of certainties we will experience this side of Heaven. It is a wise, humbling book of expectations. It reminds me that as the seasons change, clear expectations can usher in an environment of peace. How can we realistically put this into practice this summer?
State the Obvious
It might seem obvious to us, but to little ears and many personalities, summer means something different to everyone. To stop chaos before it begins, launch the summer with a family meeting. Define any immediate changes in routine that might be a source of disruption, especially for those kiddos who thrive on routine. Go over vacation plans or family visits while creating a general outline of how time will be spent during the week.
Stop, Listen, and Learn
Teens might view summer as an opportunity to sleep in late, start a new job, or hang out with friends. They may see you as an on-call chaperone while you’ve had visions of built-in helpers for times you work remotely. Younger kids may cheer the end of bedtime routines or the beginning of daily trips to the community pool. They may be planning a neighborhood treasure hunt with friends, but what they don’t know is summer camp goes until mid-day Monday through Friday. Use the family meeting to not just lay out expectations, but to take input from the entire family.
Communicate the Challenges
Don’t hesitate to vocalize problem areas. Teachers technically have the summer off but spend weeks planning and organizing for the following year. Parents who work from home and are used to a quiet work environment should address that challenge and allow the kids to be a part of the solution. For siblings who tend to bicker, set aside quiet time every day where each kid can go to their respective corner with a book or toy. The time can change daily, but they should expect that it is a constant part of the summer routine.
The thing about expectations is that sometimes they change. Consistent communication creates an environment of openness that eases the sting of disappointment. If you are a person who expects kids to go-with-the-flow regardless of circumstances (that *may* have been me many years ago), small, unexpected changes may trigger conflict. If the kids are used to hearing you verbalize expectations, such as, “Once your chores are done, we will go to town for ice cream”, it might help alleviate tension when things don’t go as planned. “I know chores are finished but, unfortunately, we can’t get ice cream because we had to call a plumber. What special treat can we make at home instead?”.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is to teach them how and when to communicate expectations. Summer and all its sun-drenched glory is the perfect season to practice this necessary skill. Teach them that there is a time to play, a time to work, and a time to rest. There is a time to be still and a time to dance. Whatever this season looks like for you, do it in a way that glorifies God and highlights the strength of your family.
Happy summer, friends.