With older children who go to school, our house is quiet during the day. But won’t last much longer. In just a few short weeks, we will experience a reverse exodus: the children will come home and stay for the summer.
This presents special challenges for our family. First of all, my study is at home and having little bodies around during the day can make getting some kinds of work done more difficult. (Frankly, their bodies aren’t so little any more, but you get the idea.) Second, we have four children at home (two in college) and so we’re dealing with parenting on a larger scale than some other people we know.
To start with, we start with two biblical principles. First, God calls us to redeem the time–a powerful concept if you haven’t grasped it before and worth exploring in another essay. Second, it isn’t only the church which should do things “decently and in order.” Families benefit from this pursuit as well.
With that as a philosophical foundation, our first step is for my wife and and I to align our our desires for the kids and make sure we understand how the other thinks the children should spend their time over the summer.
To do this, we carve out some time together. This means time for the two of us, without the kids present, calendars in hand and an iPad or laptop. We pray for each child and for the process. Then we talk about where the child is and how we’d like to see them grow over the course of summer’s ten to twelve weeks.
Then, we make a list of things we think they would enjoy or benefit from. Things like Hobo Band (a local community band some of our kids have enjoyed), drama club, art camp, VBS, Christian camp, a visit to grandparents, family vacation, trips to the beach, etc.
We then list out the household needs–what has to happen to keep our house running smoothly? With this list, we make age-appropriate re-assignment of chores. (I say re-assignment because summer schedules require different people to do different chores than they do during the school year.)
We also remember importance of outdoor exercise (some of our kids have summer training schedules for their school sport; but some do not), personal daily Bible reading (we work with each kid to make sure they are enjoying and benefiting from some form of personal spiritual Christian devotion), hygiene, summer employment (for the kids who want to try and make money over the summer), and how to keep their academics from going too much into deep freeze.
Speaking of academics, for the past two summers, our local school district has made available to us a math enrichment program called Ten Marks. It allows the parent to set the starting level for each child’s math ability (based on what math they will be taking in the fall) and then set specific rewards for each child’s progress.
On top of all these things, we don’t neglect the importance of throwing in a good helping of daily play.
Besides this basic planning, we address hot-button issues. My wife and I make sure that we get clarity between the two of us on topics that we might fight about (eg., when does the TV come on, how much video game play is okay, when do the kids get up in the morning, when is meal time, when is bed time, etc). The goal is simple: in these potential conflict areas we are prepared to meet the children with a loving but united front as a couple.
Once we have alignment, we pray again at the end of that meeting and then we find time to sit down with the kids. As we did together, just the two of us, we also begin with prayer with the children. The conversation which follows, at first, is focused on what they want. The tone is primarily positive. Of course, they know we will be asking them to do things that they don’t want to do (or at least aren’t thrilled about). But we want the emphasis to be hopeful. We want to anticipate a special summer together. Our commitment is for their well-being. They need to know we think what they think matters.
At this point, the kids normally are pretty excited. The care and thought we’ve already invested really pays off. In the negotiable areas, where there’s a difference between the kids, on the one hand, and my wife and me, on the other, we compromise. We try to give the kids as much say as we can. Once we agree on a plan, we agree to implement it.
With this approach, we enter the summer months with a genuine sense of esprit de corps and communal enthusiasm. Everyone knows what to expect. We feel confident that we’re spending our time in ways we think will not only honor God but also promotes each person’s, and the whole family’s well-being.