I have always found the months of May and June to be a fascinating time of year. When I was a kid, the anticipation of summer vacation and 2 months off from school (at least in Canada) was always something that helped me push through what usually ended up being a busy time of the year. As I got older and started teaching, that anticipation for summer vacation turned into downright giddiness. Nothing got me more amped than knowing I was getting two whole months off from work with no responsibilities or timelines to adhere to.
Then, I had kids.
Nothing changes the vibe of time off work like having children around all…the…time! It doesn’t matter whether you’re off for the whole summer or for only one week, going from seeing each other for 3-4 hours a day to being together 100% of the time definitely can test your patience and sanity. When my son and daughter were very young, I found that it wasn’t all that difficult (surprisingly) to manage all of our time together because my main focus was simply keeping them alive. If we managed to make it outside or to the store, I considered it to be a major success.
As they have gotten older though, I have found it to be a little more challenging getting through 2 months of extended time together. This is not to say that it’s not enjoyable, it just means that I sometimes struggle balancing their expectations for summer vacation with mine. If I left it up to them, everyday would be jam packed with fun and excitement, and while I would love for them to be engaged and occupied all the time, that is definitely not realistic. I simply don’t have the energy, creativity, or money to provide them with exciting and memorable experiences everyday for two whole months. As a result, compromise needs to be made in order to assure that we all get what we want/need from our time off.
Now, I’m not going to lie, having the entire summer off is fantastic. In fact, it is such a great perk of my job that I am more than willing to accept the resentment and chagrin from both my wife and friends whenever the end of June rolls around. That being said though, I also understand that this extra time I get to spend with my kids is a luxury that a lot of people don’t get. It is through these extended periods of time off work with my kids that I have come to learn a few things that help us have a balanced and rewarding time away from everyday responsibilities. Knowing that we all find enjoyment in different things, I will be focusing more on mindsets and ideas that help us get the most out of summer rather than specific activities.
The Transition is Real
Whether you are taking a couple weeks off from work during the summer for a family vacation, or spending all summer with your kids, there definitely is a transitional period. In our house, May and June are full of activities, sports, field trips, and family obligations. Then July 1st hits, and…nothing. No organized sports, no school, no daycare, and no schedule. While this may seem liberating, it actually has caused some anxiety for me because at times, I have found it difficult to transition from a demanding schedule to one that is significantly more relaxed and calm. I have found that its important, for both myself and the kids, to take a day or two to reflect on the year, look ahead to next, and ground ourselves in the moment in order to regroup and prepare for a pretty drastic change to our schedule.
I understand this may be hard for those of you who have limited time off from work, but if you do have an extended break over the summer, still try and accomplish at least one thing of substance per day. It’s really tempting to fall into vacation mode and forget that you are a functioning and important member of your home/community, but I feel it’s really important for both kids and adults to at least try and remain somewhat productive.
Accomplishing something everyday, whether it be work or home related, will stop the days from blending into a repetitive cycle of nothingness, thus making your time off seem to go by in an instant. It will also allow for a feeling of achievement when you look back on your summer and see all that you actually got done. I also think it’s important for the kids to remain productive in their lives as it will make the transition easier when they have to go back to school after 2 months off. This could come in the form of household chores, helping you with the yard/garden, or brushing up on some academics such as reading or math.
Have Kids Help Plan
Along with doing one thing productive, I always try and do at least one fun activity each day that is specifically for the kids. Early on, I used to plan these activities myself, but as they have gotten older, I now let them have input into how they want their day to go. Allowing them this ownership not only builds their excitement, it also allows me to work on planning and organizing with them. Having them decide what we’re going to do, where and when we’re going to do it, and what their expectations are really allows them the opportunity to think about what they want as well as the steps they need to take in order to achieve it.
Time for Yourself
Whatever that looks like, never feel guilty for taking some time for yourself. You’ve worked hard for this time off and you deserve to enjoy it.
I find that it is becoming more and more common for parents of young children to take separate time off during the summer in order to minimize the costs of child care. While it would be ideal for all of us to be able to take the same time off as our significant other, it sometimes just doesn’t make financial sense to do so. Having had to pay for daycare for the past 8 years, I can appreciate the choice to want to save some money during the summer, especially considering how expensive camps and other child care programs can be during that time. However, I have found that certain issues can arise when one parent is working while the other is at home with the kids. Whether there is a touch of resentment, jealousy, or any other harmful feeling between two partners, the answer will always include communication.
Quite often in our house, the one who is working all day (my wife) doesn’t want to come home and do more work, while the one who was home all day with the kids (me) sometimes wants a reprieve, especially if its been a particularly trying day. The problem comes when we don’t communicate what we need from each other. Through many years of this kind of set-up, we have slipped into a pretty comfortable groove where I find time during the day to take care of things that she doesn’t want to do after working all day (cooking dinner, tidying up, etc.). The result of of this is that she is now able to spend time with the kids, giving me a little break if I need, because she doesn’t have to concern herself with the menial, everyday tasks as soon as she gets home. This arrangement definitely didn’t come naturally, but through opening up about what each of us needed from the other, we have been able to eliminate any negative feelings that we may have had about our differing schedules during the summer months.
It Won’t Last Forever…So Enjoy It
Even on the most trying of days where I start to consider getting a second job just so that I can simply talk to adults again, I always remind myself that there will come a day when I will look back and miss this time with my kids. Eventually they will mature and become more independent and no longer want to be spending their entire summer with me. This thought is a way of reminding myself to appreciate this time that I get to spend with them and to do my best to create positive memories that all of us can fondly look back on when we’re older.