Summer days or summer daze?
by Dr. Dave Currie
I totally remember counting the days till summer holidays began. Didn’t we all? Just 17 days until school’s out! Yahoo! It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy the classroom but those summer days carried an aura of adventure that became to me something almost mystical.
I loved all that summer brought – the hot prairie sun, running with my dog Tammy and being shirtless as much as possible. My skin went dark and my blonde hair bleached platinum. Summer days meant more time with friends having sleepovers, either tenting in the back yard or camping out in the family travel trailer on our driveway. Summer created opportunity for outings like day trips to splash in Pike Lake or picnics at the Forestry Farm (a cheap prairie version of a zoo). It meant extra late games of hide and seek, swimming at Lathey Pool, mini bike races in the back alley, and hunting for frogs at Beaver Creek. July and August would usually incorporate at least one great visit with the cousins down on the farm and another week at summer camp. What a blast!
Without a doubt though, the highlight of every summer was our family vacation. Dad would take two or three weeks off and the five of us prairie types would head off pulling a little trailer. Trips over the years included the Canadian Rockies and to regions beyond. Dad used to say “it wasn’t a vacation if you didn’t see mountains.” We went to Vancouver and Victoria, the Oregon Coast, the California Redwoods, the Grand Canyon, LA and Disneyland, border town Mexico, Old faithful in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota just to name a few.
Where we went was only part of the fun. It was how we went that really completed the picture of our family joy. Car games, family sing-a-longs, surprise gifts (more puzzles or games to play), snacks, comic books and even family devotions. Sometimes getting there was at least half the fun.
By now, you’ve got a taste as to why I have so many fond memories of summer days. My parents set the bar high. It’s the heart of my own warmhearted midsummer recollections that guided me as a Dad to what we did with our crew. We had some incredibly fun and engaging family times with our four kids. The spirit of summer lives on. And that possibility of great summer and family fun is waiting your carload too.
But I am concerned with what I see. There’s a type of “summer daze” surfacing more and more. It’s like the family vacation and summer break idea has become obsolete, or more like a distraction from real life. When no effort to carve out time together as a family is made, children experience “summer daze”. They are stunned by the lack of parental planning, confused by the absence of real family time and bewildered by a fog of summer nothingness. It leads to a serious family disconnect – a real DAZE!
Many families go their separate ways, each doing their own thing, or worse – doing nothing! Summer comes and goes with no memorable moments and no significant family bonding events. Kids get farmed out, spend weeks on end at summer camp or shipped off to “visit” relatives. Some kids are even left at home to fend for themselves with digital baby-sitters. They can blow the majority of their days inside just gaming with the latest device, all the while mom and dad are working. Yup, summer daze.
I know there are sometimes challenging seasons or complicated circumstances where a weeklong summer get-away as a family may not be possible. I respect limits. But what I don’t respect is not finding ways to make summer special for your family. These engaging family bonding events create summer traditions that anchor you and your kids to each other.
Here are my best tips for getting the most of your family’s summer days:
Carve out time. Don’t make excuses. Make the family vacation a priority. It tells your kids so much about their importance and the value you place on family time. If your work limits the amount of time, do a couple of longer weekends. Remember, it is not about how much money you spend, it is about getting a change of pace and a change of location. Some of our cheapest holidays hold the greatest memories. Just get away to focus on each other!
Relax the schedule. Loosen bedtime strictness in July and August. Don’t be a schedule Nazi! Learn the rhythm of a summer timetable. I know routine is important, especially for younger kids, but being flexible when there’s no school the next day creates more time for fun activities and a specialness that only a summer schedule can bring. Even if both parents can’t be at all the outings, allow for ways to flex your days to make your kids’ summer colourful and fun.
Do crazy things. Brave some activities you normally wouldn’t do or have never done before. That’s often where lasting memories are made. Try some unique things like crab fishing, an amusement park, surfing, a matinee movie, caving, waterslides, a zoo, a driving range, swimming in a cold waterfall pool, rollerblading, a mud fight, mountain hikes, a bouncy park and anything else within two hours of home. Be sure to join with the kids in the activities! Don’t be a joy killer even if you are not as good as they are. Learn and laugh together.
Create digital silence. Get remote. Try to get out of cell reception. When that is not possible, agree on a daily time limit like only 30 minutes in the a.m. and 30 minutes in the p.m. to keep up with social networks. Work to have everyone enjoy the activities without any digital interference! It’s family time. You can use your phones as cameras but you can’t post them until evening. Curtail the digital distractions.
Be totally present. Parents, you have to actually be “in the moment”. If you are not engaged, you are not there. Be present with the kids, enjoying them in the activity, not wondering how long you have to endure this. If you are emotionally absent or a killjoy, you lose the moment as a great opportunity to connect. If you are even internally thinking about everything you have to do later, they will sense your lack of interest and engagement. Shut things down and be on vacation with them.
Anticipate deeper conversations. Use activities and family time to create greater relational connection. Time together doing enjoyable things stimulates discussion. As interest is shown between you, doors will open naturally to have important talks. Be sure to talk about significance in life. You might want to even have a topic for the day for the family to interact on. That can be rich. Don’t forget to go to church on vacation either. It helped me as a kid see that attending weekly was important. Parents, braid God into conversations remarking about the beauty He created, showing gratitude for the fun you are having as a family, and close each day with a short God-thought and a family prayer time.
Believe that God has a plan to strengthen your family unit this summer. Use some of these suggestions to improve the ties of love between you. Let me know what has worked for your family to make summers great and them email me at the end of summer and tell me how these tips strengthened your family’s bond. And yes, you will never regret putting your marriage and family first – that’s God’s plan.