kids in sprinklerI don’t know about you, but I’m always glad when summer finally arrives with the promise of wildflowers, fresh peaches, long days, and family adventures. Yet, with kids around the house, summer brings both joy and trepidation. After I’ve exhaled the initial sigh of relief that school is over, I start to ponder how I am not only going to survive, but actually thrive until the school bells ring again. For me, that involves forging the ideal balance between unstructured “chill” time and meaningful and memorable activities that the entire family will enjoy.

While I fantasize that my semi-adult housemates –aka my teenaged sons– will spend time reading for pleasure, working for pay, and helping with projects around the house, my 15 year old son’s version of a happy summer resembles more of a plan-as-you-go-play-fest including plenty of time to sleep, eat, chill, and hang out with friends with some biking, swimming, and backpacking mixed in.

Imagine my delight when, the other day, my son finished his chores, mowed the neighbor’s lawn then, with his fishing rod, swim trunks and leftovers scrounged from the refrigerator stuffed into his backpack, mounted his bike for another blissful day of promising adventure. Although my family and I have been well-schooled in the art of compromise, communication and cooperationkids blowing bubbles over the past 17 years, we still get daily opportunities to practice…

Hopefully, my musings will assist you to discover your own summerfest rhythm so that you can not only survive, but learn to thrive during this precious time of year and life.

“Pa-tience: The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset; quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.”

An important ingredient for smooth relations at all times of the year, patience can take a nosedive as the aura of the summer honeymoon begins to fade. Many of us think of patience like a muscle, “The more you use it the stronger it gets.” That may be true in the long run, but not in the short run.

feet in hammockIn her book, The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal shares this sobering truth from researcher Roy Baumeister: “Self control is like a muscle. When used, it gets tired. If you don’t rest the muscle, you can run out of strength entirely, like an athlete who pushes himself to exhaustion.” So, if you want to make it to the finish line of summer with your patience somewhat intact, find ways to relax and recharge.

Preventive Measures: That’s why self-care is not selfish, but essential for preventing burnout and frustration. I prefer to start my day with yoga and meditation, the only time I can be reliably sure of a well-rested self-control muscle and a quiet house. Be sure to arrange some quality time for yourself and your passions. Everyone appreciates a happier, healthier you…

Recipes for Fun: Just like adults, kids thrive on novelty. Time spent at home can whiz by with minimal drama when you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Water-play, the all time favorite — sprinklers, pools, ponds and creeks — keeps kids happy and engaged for hours. Let budding cookslemonade stand experiment with summer recipes like homemade popsicles or a jar of sun tea.  Bubble making, lemonade stands, dress-ups, forts, service projects, pet care, art, dance, music, theater, movie making, gardening, sidewalk chalk… The possibilities are endless.

Lessons, Camps and Coops: Time spent out of the house provides fun and autonomy for your children and some sanity for you. Several summers ago, a group of parents I know organized an activity calendar. Moms and dads took turns ferrying a group of kids on fun excursions like swim lessons, concerts, plays, and water parks. For time-in and time-out from parenting duties: collaborate.

W + O Lake O'Hara 2007Trips and Visits: Though grueling at times, my best memories of summer fun with my husband and sons took place on visits to family, National Parks and wild places. Smooth sailing is never guaranteed, but planning and preparation certainly increase the odds that you’ll be able to handle whatever comes your way. To create master packers, involve young children in the process. Be sure to pack some new books, games, puzzles, and art supplies for long plane or car rides. Healthy snacks provide distraction and sustenance when food is not available at regular meal times. Expect to invest lots of time and effort assisting young children to manage their energy and curiosity and ease discomfort that arises. Practice adjusting to new situations builds flexibility and resilience, qualities that serve us all well.

So, relax, have fun, and travel safely and please share your latest and greatest ideas for keeping the peace until the school bells ring…