For most kids, the school year is coming to an end, and figuring out how to finish the last few weeks strong, along with preparing for a less than normal summer, comes down to a few core things.
To first acknowledge the obvious, everyone has different ideas of parenting, as well as how their family best functions. Some parents aren’t home with their kids during the summer, some are. There is no one size fits all solution to raising kids. That being said, this summer is going to look very different than previous ones. Lots of outdoor activities and venues won’t be open, and if they are, there will more than likely be extra safety measures in place.
It’s enough to make any parent crazy, let alone how kids are feeling not being able to go places or see their friends as they normally would. A lot of what’s going on is out of our hands, so being able to steer into the skid a little can help make the next few months both enjoyable as well as more manageable.
One thing that I admittedly have the most trouble with is managing expectations. Right now, I’m home with my kids, which means I constantly have a little voice in my head telling me what I should be doing, what I haven’t done yet, or how I can squeeze just one more thing into my day. It’s easy to feel like because we’re home more, we should be doing more. From my experience, all that ends up doing is setting us up to feel like we failed in some respect.
Between my five year old who, despite only being in Kindergarten, has a Zoom meeting with his class every morning, and at least 2-3 hours of school work to complete most days, my two year old who never met a room he didn’t want to destroy, and normal everyday house upkeep, it’s already easy to feel tapped out. Throw in my husband working from home full time and myself completing a graduate degree as well as a remote internship on top, and any extra chore really is a CHORE.
There are days where we wake up and throw on that super hero cape to check off all the boxes and then some. There are days where we’re lucky to get half of our “normal” routine done before 3pm. The difference for us recently is how we set our expectations. Being home all day doesn’t mean your house should be spotless, it doesn’t mean all those home improvement projects need to be done right away, it doesn’t mean your kids need to have structured, over the top, “instagram worthy” activities planned all day every day.
My kids favorite thing to do? Dig around in the dirt with sticks. Planning really fun, extravagant activities for your kids is great, and we do it too when we can, but sometimes a day in the dirt is just as fun as anything else. The greatest benefit of figuring out how to manage expectations is the sense of relief you’ll feel knowing that you don’t have to throw on that superhero cape every single day.
Something that really goes hand in hand with expectations is setting realistic goals. When my son’s remote learning started and we found out he would be expected to do the same amount of work he was doing during a full day of school at home, we knew we had to set some realistic goals, for him and for ourselves. Remote learning is vastly different than in person learning, especially for kids. A huge part of the school experience is about learning those fundamental social skills and fostering friendships and relationships outside of the family circle.
By sheer nature, remote learning removes a huge percentage of that social component, leaving behind mostly academic expectations. We can’t expect to mimic his school environment in a lot of ways, but what we did do was help teach him how to set goals for his own workload, and to let us know when he needs to take a break. In all honesty, there are days where it’s just not happening, and we recognize that forcing him to do the work is not a battle worth fighting. The good thing about allowing him to set his own goals and work at his own pace is that those rough days are few and far between, and most days we are able to help him reach his goals.
Setting goals is a great skill to practice outside of the classroom as well, for kids and parents. Again, it can be easy to feel like because we are potentially spending more time at home, that we need to go above and beyond with activities and expectations. I personally blame Pinterest for my overwhelming urge to make my own finger paints or playdough and do a dozen new diy projects each day. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and honestly creative outlets like that are an amazing place to get ideas for when you have the time and resources to do those things. However, being realistic is key.
We don’t all have the time and resources to do things like that every day, nor should we feel like we NEED to. We try to make it a goal for our family to do one crazy activity a week. Maybe during the summer we’ll do more, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. The great thing about kids and summertime is that they go really well together, and kids are pretty inventive at coming up with their own form of entertainment.
The last thing that I’ve really been reflecting on a lot the past few weeks in particular is keeping everything in perspective. We’ve all heard it a thousand times in one way or another: Nothing is normal right now, and we don’t know when things will be back to normal. I’ve really started taking that to heart and, for myself, realizing that it means it’s okay to let some things go.
Chances are we won’t be able to take our kids to any public pools or water parks, but we’ve got a whole container of water balloons, a blow up pool and plenty of outside space for them to run around. My 5 year-old won’t have a traditional Kindergarten graduation (this one still stings), but we ordered a bunch of balloons, signs and streamers to help him celebrate. We won’t be taking any big trips for summer vacation, but we’re planning on finding some campsites to explore, and a tent in the backyard is always a crowd pleaser with younger kids.
All in all, Olaf said it best in the new Frozen movie, when he talked about “controlling what you can when things feel out of control”. Most kids are just as excited about a water balloon fight as they are a day at a water park. Take your super hero cape and use it to play make believe instead of making yourself crazy.