June 15, 2009

Summer Days

Every year at this time, I see at least one version of a perennial newspaper cartoon. Details and drawing styles differ, but the theme is the same: In the first frame, children burst forth from school doors, grinning and shouting, “It’s summer! Now what?” In the second, a mom hunches over, lamenting, “It’s summer! Now what?”

Each time I see this, I cringe because I resent the message it conveys – that moms should or actually do dislike being with their children. And – taken a step further – it insinuates there’s something “wrong” with us if we enjoy our kids. Because according to these cartoons, “normal” women just want to escape.

This twist on reality isn’t accurate. Sure, we get tired, but most moms love their children deeply. We became moms because we were called to do so for myriad reasons, and we cherish family time. That side of mothering is rarely portrayed in pop culture, and that irks me.

On the other hand, I understand the one level of truth illustrated in the cartoons: We moms sometimes do tire of the continual demands placed on us. So summer days can sometimes seem very long indeed. We wonder what to do all day, especially when our kids complain of boredom…and all the more, perhaps, this year when many of us cannot afford expensive diversions.

To deal with those realities, I have three suggestions.

First, investigate cheap local venues and schedule one outing a week. For example, my mid-sized city has a nice amusement park where rides cost about fifty cents each. We also have a handful of water parks that cost a few dollars per visit and dozens of free wading pools where even tweens can enjoy splashing around on a hot day. In addition, one bowling alley offers an amazing deal, no strings attached: free bowling all summer long for school-aged kids. With a bit of sleuthing, you can certainly unearth similar opportunities where you live.

Second, brainstorm activities your child can do at home when boredom strikes: bead projects, cheap wooden models, reading, sidewalk chalk, and biking come immediately to my mind, to name a few. Then post the list in a handy spot and pull it out when whining starts. Be clear that you expect your child to try something on the list and, before too long, something will pique the interest of most kids. They’ll get going on the project and may even branch off to something from their own imaginations.

Which brings up my third suggestion: Don’t always come to the rescue. In our instant-gratification-entertain-me culture, kids might expect us to spoon-feed them their fun. But they need opportunities to discover for themselves how to occupy their time in meaningful ways – a skill they’ll never develop if we program their entire lives for them. So sometimes do what our own parents did: send them outside or upstairs with an assignment to simply “find something to do.” They’ll grumble at first, but don’t give in. Stand your ground, and then take a peek 20 minutes later; you’ll soon see Legos or paper dolls pulled from the back of the closet…or spy them studying the habits of an ant colony or simply lying on their backs gazing at passing clouds.

With those strategies under your belt, I predict you won’t very often find yourself in the company of the sad cartoon mom. Rather, you’ll enjoy some sweet quality time with your kids this summer – just as you desire to…because you love them to pieces. And – when they’re off discovering their own pleasures – you’ll even find bits of time to find refreshment in a few of your own pursuits.


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