It’s summer – the kids are out of school, the days are longer, our calendars are less crowded. You might think all this would lead us to feel quite carefree. So why do many of us feel just as frenzied in summer as we do during the rest of the year? Perhaps it’s because we’ve brought our work, school and other responsibilities with us into summer, instead of making a shift to reflect the changes in the natural world. Perhaps it’s because, as always, we try to pack just a little too much into our days. A few small changes can really help us lighten up to match the season, while also helping us squeeze more true pleasure from this joyous time of year.
Make a Summer Bucket List
For many, summer conjures beach days, county fairs, gazing at the stars, planting flowers, playing flashlight tag, or making simple crafts. What would you and your family really like to have done by the time Labor Day comes around? Make a summer bucket list of ideas and hang it where you can see it, or write each idea on a piece of paper or a popsicle stick and place those in a bucket. Have one family member choose one activity once or more per week. Don’t feel like you have to do everything on the list – you can do many of your favorites another time.
Watch the Sun Rise or Set
The day naturally slows when we take the time to witness a dramatic and beautiful sunrise or sunset. Get comfortable, pay attention to the changing colors and light, and make a point to either greet or say goodbye to the day. This small act can be very grounding and gratifying to people of all ages, as it truly takes us out of the artificial time of clocks, calendars, emails and to-do lists, and into the rhythms of nature and the comforting, yet awe-inspiring, turning of the Earth.
Make Time for Down Time
Many of us are uncomfortable with empty spaces on the calendar. As difficult as it may be, and as enriching as many choices are, try to resist the urge to schedule every moment of summer. Kids actually need play time, down time and family time in order not only to recharge, but also to fully thrive. In addition, they don’t need to be constantly entertained. Free time, and even boredom, has produced wonderful innovations and insights. It is often during quiet time that many children make unique discoveries, including the directions of their own inner compasses. If down time doesn’t come naturally to you, schedule some into your calendar.
Be Present and Do One Thing at a Time
Have you ever noticed that kids are usually not doing and thinking about multiple things at once? This is one area in which we can probably learn from them. Many of us parents would be surprised by how much our kids just want to be with us, and how our multitasking makes them feel. In studies of hundreds of kids over five years, Dr. Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, unearthed countless stories of children feeling neglected by their parents for media.
Try to compartmentalize your work and other tasks, so that they don’t invade precious time with your family. Because of the allure of electronics, we often have to turn our devices off as well, so that we can devote our attention to the people we’re with and the activities we’re doing without being distracted by alerts and the occasional itchy-fingered desire to check in with the electronic world.
Give Your Electronics the Day Off
Electronic media is so incredibly seductive for people of all ages that sometimes we need to take things a step further and formally unplug for a period of time in order to experience our families, selves and time. Follow the direction of most of the world’s religions and cultures and call a scheduled day of rest each week, for a day, a night, or a few hours. If you’re constantly plugged in, it can be very enlightening to see what happens when you get quiet, and also when you do get back to media. It is usually emergency-free and easier to get back into the flow of work and communication than we envision.
In addition, many TV shows contain anxiety-provoking images and messages. Try cutting out one or more TV shows per week and substituting them with a family walk or game.
Be a Tourist in Your Town
We often think we have to engage in awesome (read expensive) summer vacation travel, when sometimes the simplest experiences can prove the most delightful, especially for younger children. Get up early one day and watch the stores and businesses in your town receive their deliveries and come alive. Visit your nearest large city and partake in a true tourist activity that you’ve never done before. Walk or ride bikes as a family in a new neighborhood. You may be surprised by just how much fun everyone has, trying new things and seeing local surroundings with fresh eyes.
Enjoy Your Family
Summer often means extended time with your family and with that inevitably comes some days that are more trying than others. Try to keep in mind that this phase will pass, summer only comes once a year, and the kids will only be this age once. If having other parents around helps, participate in group activities, either with a buddy or through a structured program. Relish the good times and the memories you’re forming now. Chances are that summer’s smallest moments will be the ones you regard with the most fondness later.
Susan Sachs Lipman (Suz) is the author of Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which grew out of her blog, Slow Family Online. Slow Parenting and Fed Up with Frenzy were named a 2012 Top 10 Parenting Trend by TIME Magazine. Suz has written for the New York Times Motherlode blog, the Christian Science Monitor’s Modern Parenthood blog, and many other outlets. She is the Social Media Director for the Children & Nature Network, Bookboard digital children’s book library, and Parents Place agency. She lives with her husband and daughter in Mill Valley, CA.