“Summertime and the livin’ is easy” are the words of a song which reflect the expectations many families have for July and August each year. However, it does not often turn out as we plan. Surviving the summer can be a feat! It demands ongoing discussion, planning, and cooperation to meet the needs of all family members.
Summer brings different kinds of issues to families. Many children move homes or cities for longer periods of time in shared parenting arrangements, friends are absent and thus, a lack of playmates can be an issue as well as finding the right child care arrangements and/or camps.
As parents we set up expectations for more rest, fun and relaxation. We may also attempt to recreate our positive summer childhood experiences or offer every opportunity to our children which we missed in our childhood. The greater our expectations of how summer living and/or vacation time will happen, the more frustration and disappointment we may experience. Children do not always value what we, as parents, work so hard to create. They may have their own expectations which do not match the adult’s wishes, especially our teenage children.
Children do not always value what we, as parents, work so hard to create.
How can we ensure more family fun and less family friction?
1. Clarify with each family member how they envision the summer, e.g. what they do and do not want, what are their priorities and plans, etc.
2. Involve the children in planning each week through a family meeting at a set time for 30 minutes.
3. Have the family make a visit to the tourist bureau to research activities that families can do in your area. The children can collect brochures and become the planners for outings.
4. Plan a celebration activity each week where you talk about what each family member is enjoying in their life and what they are planning that could be shared together.
5. Accept that children will proclaim “I am bored.” Parents do not have to feel obligated to be their entertainer. Teach them to problem-solve by having each child make a list of options early in the summer and have them choose from the list on these boredom days.
Specific activities that can be fun for families:
• Camping in the back yard can be an adventure for the whole family (preschool and school age children).
• Having a treasure hunt planned by the children within the neighbourhood.
• A picnic in the park designed by the children, i.e. games/food.
• Taking each of your children out for a special lunch or to the museum, etc. Time given to each child separately can create an opportunity to build special memories.
• Sharing and exploring the family albums or creating new family albums. School age children could build family albums as a summer project.
• Teenagers may resist family activities because it may be embarrassing for them to be seen hanging out with their parents, such as at the movies. They may wish to sit separately or bring a friend. Teens are attempting to direct their own lives and may resist family time as a means of showing their independence.
Lay out what is negotiable and non-negotiable. If the family goes to the cottage every weekend, discuss with your teenagers how to make it work for them. Accept that they may feel unhappy with parental decisions and let them have their feelings. They may pout on the drive to the cottage but will eventually find activities to do.
• Involve the children in vacation planning—activities to do, food to bring, clothes planning, etc.
• Assign a day that can be designated each child’s day and allow them to have their favourite meals, activities they like, friends, etc.Summer can be a time of building memories that will last a lifetime. Find out what your children’s favourite summer memories are and recreate what works with them. If fishing is special, let them plan a fishing day/weekend. Let them take ownership of organizing these activities so they learn to create their own plans with your guidance.
Involvement is the key to happier summer family life. Be careful of too high expectations and flow with the many changes inherent in summer living. Have a good time juggling as well as making time just for you to do what you want.
Children need to see that their parents also have priorities for fun activities, which may be different than theirs. There has to be space and time for everyone’s wishes, which will require cooperation, negotiation, respect, and lots of communication.
Summertime offers opportunities to be together in different ways and have fun doing it!
Marion Balla is the president of the Adlerian Counselling and Consulting Group, Inc Please write to us at The Adlerian Centre at 1729 Bank Street, Suite 205, Ottawa K1V 7Z5 or fax 523-7148 with your suggestions, reactions, or ideas.
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