Summer: Surviving with Mom’s Sanity Intact

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family summerEach year, as summer vacation descends upon my family, I get a bit nervous about the next three months. I’m the type of mom who appreciates the routine and predictability that the school year offers—early mornings, early bedtimes and a chunk of time in-between to stay caught up on my responsibilities, while my children focus their attention on learning in their classrooms.

For some, the relaxed nature of summer is an opportunity to not be too busy. The slower pace is a welcomed distraction and a nice break. But for others, like me, summer is filled with worry that routine, order and predictability will simply unravel before their eyes.

Now, please don’t get me wrong! It is nice to have breaks and enjoy needed rest. However, a three-month-long break causes all that I count on to get lost in the looseness of summer. There are days when I simply feel outnumbered by six children asking to do a million different things at once. And there are days when I feel completely overruled by going to bed and sleeping in late, losing ground on good study habits that took nine months to form, and hearing those inevitable words, “I’m bored,” more and more as summer progresses.

I love my children and am so blessed to be a mom, which is why feeling anxious about the summer also makes me feel extremely guilty. Why do I fear having my six children home with me for three months? How can I worry more about the state of my home than the state of my family? Why am I not welcoming the lazy, hazy days of summer? Why am I so anxious about a lack of routine? What is wrong with me?

Late this spring, as I again found myself struggling with the anxiety, wrestling with the guilt and feeling overwhelmed by both, I began searching for a solution. How could I reduce the anxiety? How could I maintain a predictable (but looser) routine? And most importantly, how could I enjoy the extra time I have with my children during the summer months?

After much prayer, some research and plenty of conversations with my husband, I adopted a four-step approach to summer with the hope of decreasing my anxiety and increasing my enjoyment of summer:

Mom First

“O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch” (Psalm 5:3)

Mom-time is hard to get, no matter what season it is. It is hard to find the balance between giving to our families and receiving the refreshment we need in order to give well.

Knowing this difficult balance, I put mom first at the top of my four-step approach, and it begins at the very start of my day.

Even though I don’t have to rise early to get my children to school, I decided to maintain an early wake-up time in the summer. My whole day looks different in the summer, but my time to rise and shine remains the same. By doing this, I find peace in keeping part of my schedule intact.

And upon rising, I pray. I begin my day by sitting on the front porch with Jesus and a cup of coffee. This time with the Lord sets me up to receive the day (and my children) with greater peace, patience and flexibility. And I have realized that this prayer time actually is an unexpected blessing that has sprung out of a more relaxed summer schedule!

In addition, I have incorporated quiet time into our looser summer routine, one hour right after lunch. Quiet time gives me an hour to read, write a note or knit, and it also gives my children a short break from one another, which results in a more peaceful afternoon.

Share the Load

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other …” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

With summer, my housekeeping routine gets completely thrown upside down. Worrying about how I am going to keep the house clean, cook meals and get to the grocery store with six children running around, tracking in dirt everyday, is a big part of my summer-induced anxiety.

I know I can’t keep up with housekeeping completely on my own, especially when all eight of us are home everyday. So, it is important for my children to know that they need to share the load.

Before summer even began, I asked them if they preferred one, big cleaning day per week or doing a few chores each day. They unanimously voted for the latter.

I decided to use a free household planner that I found at The Confident Mom blog (http://www.theconfidentmom.com/services/classes-products/household-planner-sales-page/) for our daily chores.

Each day, after we’re dressed and have eaten breakfast, the kids and I look on the day’s short list of chores, and we sign up for one or two of them. We work in the morning, and usually in less than one hour, we are done with most of the tasks. We save a couple chores (like a 15-minute quick tidy, setting the table and washing the dishes) for around dinnertime.

Because I got my children’s input on how they wanted to do chores this summer, they are willing to work a little bit each day, so we can have a little fun each day as well. And because we are getting a little bit done each day, I am able to let go of what doesn’t get done, because I know it will get done in a day or two.

Plan

“… but all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40)

Another part of my summer anxiety involves what to do with my six children of varying ages. From experience, I know I need to maintain a balance of activity and downtime. Finding the right balance is crucial to avoid boredom and fighting, two things that can really disturb the peace and harmony of family life.

I researched summer programs offered through the parks, schools and community centers. With my calendar in front of me and my budget in mind, I signed up my children for a handful of inexpensive summer enrichment activities, including VBS and (free) soccer camp for all five of my school-aged children. My oldest daughter is in a play, which requires daily rehearsals in June, but I picked a weekly basketball class for my six-year-old boy to provide him with more free time to run around the backyard with his buddies. Knowing that my older children need (and can handle) more structured activities, while my younger kids are content with going to the playground and running through the sprinklers, factored into how much each child is doing. Not every week is planned with summer camps, but they also have enough to look forward to.

In addition to official summer programs, I also hosted a summer brainstorming session with my children. We made a long list of fun ideas we would like to do this summer. Many of the ideas the children suggested were already on my mind, such as having picnics, going to the beach and zoo, and making tie-dye shirts, but it was fun for them to come up with part of our family’s summer plan. We will use this “summer bucket list” to pick and choose family-fun activities on our down days. Some of the ideas might require a whole day, like a trip to a museum, but others will only need a short amount of time to make a fun snack and play a game.

Go with the Flow

“So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34)

As much as I am a mom who likes to have a plan, to be able to look at my calendar and know what’s happening on any given day or week, I also have come to appreciate that summer is indeed a more relaxed season. Summer allows for family bike rides, picnics and splashing at the splash pad. It allows for reading books in the tree house, sipping lemonade on the front porch and playing hopscotch on the driveway.

My orderly, systematic persona is trying to let go of the desire for structure and organization that comes so naturally with the school year. And I am trying to adopt an attitude that goes with the flow. It’s like loosening the grip on routine and replacing it with rhythm.

So, for example, if it’s on the calendar to make a craft, but the kids are having a blast playing kickball with the neighbors, it’s OK to go with the flow and let them play kickball! The craft can wait until another day. I know this may seem obvious, but I often have to give my strict, structured self permission to relax! And if you’re like me, then I encourage you to give yourself permission, too!

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

There is, indeed, a season for everything. God created it to be that way. Through His grace, may we, moms, enjoy each season of our lives with those we love most, our families.

Do you prefer the structure of the school year or the relaxed nature of summer? How do you balance getting things done with having fun?

Copyright 2014 Sarah Damm

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About Author

Sarah Damm is a Catholic wife and mother of six children, ages 4 to 12, living in Minnesota. She spends her days like many moms do—driving kids around, running errands, cooking meals and helping with homework. And in the thick of it, she and her husband strive to weave the Catholic faith, in all its rich beauty and tradition, into their daily lives as well as into how they celebrate holidays and holy days. In her “free” time, Sarah enjoys knitting, reading, and a good cup of coffee with a friend. She blogs at morethanenough7.blogspot.com.

11 Comments

  1. I wrote a similar piece to come out Monday od next week about the coming of summer break and the need/desire to plan ahead vs. having that unstructured time to relax. I was also seeking some wisdom from others about plans for my daughter.
    This was a nice, sensible read. I appreciated it much.

  2. This is great! I only have one child, but I still relate very much to both your issues and solutions for summer break. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Claire! Whether we have 1, 3, 6 or 12 children, I *think* this is something many (most) moms (and dads) can relate to in some way. It’s comforting to me to know I’m not the only one! :-) God bless your summer!

  3. Sarah, thanks for the link to the household planner. I kinda do one during the summer, but I like this one better. My children are 19 to 4. The younger kids are up at 7-7:30 no matter what time they go to bed. The teenagers would sleep until 10-12. I feel bad waking them, so I give them the first week to sleep however late, then afterwards, most days I wake them at 9. I like the chore chart because the little can sign up and do their chore without having to wait for the older ones to get up to clean the basement. Thanks.
    And enjoy that quiet time one the porch with Jesus and a cup of coffee. That is my favorite part of summer, besides family vacation.

    • Kelly, I’m glad you like the planner! I like it’s simplicity. And I agree with you that the early risers can get their jobs done before the older ones roll out of bed, which is a nice way to keep things going … Have a blessed summer with your family!

  4. We do a mix of structure and just going with the flow. The kids and I pick a theme for each week (Ex- this is Dr. Seuss week and last week was Science week) and plan activities to do based around that. I hit up pinterest and the dollar store and we have lots of fun doing theme-based activities. BUT on the other hand, we are still pretty easy going and have lots of downtime. I like summer to be pretty lazy like when I was a kid. We sleep late, laze around, watch tv, play games, but the theme provides a little bit of structure. It works for us!

    • I like your theme idea, Emily! It seems like a nice way to balance activity with downtime. Summer did seem more relaxed when we were kids. There certainly were less structured activities/camps to sign up for! I don’t want summer to be insane, but I want to keep things moving. Again, it’s all about balance (and staying sane)! Enjoy your summer!!

  5. Great post, Sarah! I so relate to the loss of structure causing anxiety :) Spending some quiet time is a priority for us daily – my three range from 4-7 and can get on each other’s nerves a bit without those built in breaks. And mom time – yes for that. Just a little quiet space in my brain helps make the day go more smoothly for all.
    Keeping the balance between enough structure to keep my routine-lovers going strong and enough looseness to allow for plenty of spontaneous fun is my goal for this summer season. Here’s hoping and praying for success!

  6. Thank you, Marilee! I think our goals are very similar! We can keep each other in prayer, that all goes beautifully during the summer months with our families! God bless!

  7. I love this, Sarah! I am going to use some of your ideas! I also have 6 kids, but the oldest is only 7-1/2. I’m glad I’m not alone…I start to panic in April because I know it’s just a matter of weeks before preschool and school end! I’m a stickler for routine and it’s so much harder as every day is different in the summer (thank God for free vacation bible schools and playground camps though!)! We’re about two weeks into summer (school ends early here) and so far so good (I find the anticipation is much worse for me)! I can’t really count on any alone time, but I just pray all day for the grace to be gentle and loving (and sane!!). Great post :).

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