I’m a huge proponent of family fun – as my last post on special ways to celebrate your family makes clear.
While there are a number of ways to cement family bonds, one of my favorites is to simply have fun together. After all, when you live in a city like Chicago famous for its long cold winters, the sudden and momentous return of summertime signals “family fun” like no other season of the year. So let’s get to it.
The beauty of summer – and what makes it particularly advantageous for families – is that it represents a departure from the structured world of the school year. Whether you are working inside or outside the home, the array of academic and extra-curricular activities your kids have leaves precious little time for carefree family activities during the school year.
Let’s take dinner. When children have ball or band practice after school – and homework that evening – dinner is simply about providing nutrition.
But summertime? Even something as banal as supper can become a fun family activity. How?
· Get everyone involved in packing a picnic to take to your favorite neighborhood park
· Throw some pre-made pizza crusts on the grill, and have a contest to see who can create the most outlandish (yet edible) pie
· Go to a family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating – and bring along a deck of cards for a quick game after ordering or eating
· Let the kids do the menu-planning, shopping and cooking! (a personal favorite)
See what I mean?
Making summertime a prime time for family fun is largely a mindset, and now is the time to shift yours so this summer can become one of your family’s best ever. Hyperbole aside, there are a few caveats.
CAVEAT #1 What your kids don’t need to know is that family summertime fun is not just about fun. Summer can be a growth opportunity. With intentional parents at the helm, kids can get lots of opportunities to exercise their executive functioning muscles (organizing, planning and executing a plan; understanding different points of view; regulating emotions (like when a rainstorm makes plans go awry). Their regular muscles can get some additional action, too, when you try new sports or activities together.
CAVEAT #2 Summer can be a stressor. Working parents face the anxiety of getting their kids into enough camps and classes and park activities so they can show up for their jobs. Stay-at-home parents may fear having their kids around 24/7 with less of the quiet or private time they’ve come to rely on during the school year.
CAVEAT #3 Transitions are difficult for kids (for parents, too), particularly the ones out of and eventually back into the school year. So give your family a break if things aren’t picture-perfect.
CAVEAT #4 Speaking of pictures…your family’s “fun” doesn’t have to look like any other family’s, nor does it have to pass the Instagram test. It simply needs to meet the needs of your particular unit.
Now let’s get back to making this summer great! Here are two basic strategies to help kick-start the season.
Have a family meeting. This is the time for everyone to come up with a few must-dos / wanna-dos for summer 2018. Out of that brainstorming session, create a bucket list that includes something for everyone. Here are just a few ideas you might want to consider:
· Virtually every city offers family-centric activities, many of which are free or very low-cost; assign one of your kids the task of doing a bit of online research to see what’s available in your city
· Make reading a fun family activity by selecting a book to read aloud one night each week (i.e., no book report required!)
· Plant a garden in your backyard or join a community garden
· Be a tourist in your own city and explore some of the neighborhoods you’ve never been to before
· Let each of your kids include their friends in one family activity each month (dinner is a great option here, especially when you put them in charge!)
· Speaking of dinner, try a cuisine your family has never eaten. Vietnamese, anyone?
Approach the summer season intentionally and mindfully. You know your kids and what they need, and have no doubt already put into place the right amount and variety of structured activities and camps. But if summertime is all structure, your kids miss out the bounty of ideas and self-awareness that comes from some freedom and un-structured activities. That’s where parents need to exercise intentionality. Here are some ideas in this regard:
· Don’t be freaked out if your kids just want to laze around the house or backyard some days. Resist the urge to keep them busy. With freedom and downtime, kids become more adept at finding out what interests them. It’s actually an important lesson to know how to entertain oneself!
· Make and take some downtime for yourself – no matter what
· Consider if this summer is a good time for a philanthropic activity everyone participates in
· Limit screens – for everyone in the family
How can a working parent practice intentional parenting during the summer?
· Consider using your PTO to spend at least one day a month with each one of your kids alone for a special activity. Taking time off “just because” sends a powerful message to kids.
· Check with your manager regarding flex time. Many companies have official or unofficial summer policies or, if not, may be amenable to an idea you propose
· Stay connected with your kids as much as you can with a phone call during lunchtime
Being an intentional parent also means setting realistic expectations – for everyone in the family. No parent can make summertime fun-central from dawn to dusk. You still need to go to work, do the laundry and pay the bills. If you haven’t already, make this the summer you lift the veil on all the things you do as parents to make your kids lives comfortable.
It’s a great way to teach your kids to be empathic to someone else’s experience. I’m certainly not advocating you play the martyr, but it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Listen guys – Tasks A, B, C and D need to get done this week – in addition to all the fun stuff we’d like to do. Let’s figure out who will do what and when.” You just may be surprised how eager they are to help (especially the younger ones!)
A clean house and a day at the fair? Sounds like fun to me!