What Do We Need? Space. When Do We Need It? Now
I’m sorry, did you think I was talking about NASA or space exploration? No, but I wouldn’t pass up a ticket to Jupiter right about now. We’re in the throws of summer vacation, and let’s just say, things are getting tight.
As a blended family, we coordinate custody so all of our kids are with us at the same time. That means one month in June or July depending on the year. It’s incredible and what keeps Leah and I so motivated throughout the rest of the year.
We plan a big trip for at least a week, and then sprinkle the rest of the month with summer camps, church activities, friends, hanging at home and local outings. There are seven of us, so it takes a lot of planning and patience.
What we discovered was that while we dreamed of everyone together all of the time, they dreaded the press of everyone together all of the time. They love the interaction, but they’re kids and like us, they need private time and chances to do what they uniquely enjoy doing.
This became obvious while on a Disney cruise the first week of June. I thought enclosed ship, lots of time. They thought teen areas and kid zones. The thing we all unified on was soft-serve ice cream. Leah and I spent every evening without them. It was a great time to connect but I kept asking why they didn’t want to come to 80’s trivia night and they kept saying that Mickey was visiting the zone.
After the cruise and back in familiar territory, it was the same dynamic as each kid disappeared into their own space. Leah and I decided to allow that in small segments. The two teenaged girls were the worst. I understand that subset of species sleeps past noon, and broods in their room until the evening, but it was time to crack open their caves and introduce them to the rest of us.
The boys, 11, 9 and 7 were easy. They’d wake up with the sun and run out back toward the pool. Even last year before the pool was installed, the boys spent their days outside.
We had to find a new balance for the remainder of the month. Here is our strategy:
Mornings are theirs. That’s a hill not worth fighting over.
All meals are all in. No exceptions.
Afternoons on their own. It’s too hot to be outside for long, so we allow books and limited iPad watching.
Early evenings everyone begins to prepare for a grilled supper. Unless we’re on the road, we cook out every night.
The kids have clean up and dishes chores before we allow them to go back to doing what each wants to do.
We go really easy on bedtimes until August.
We’ve used this structured ebb and flow over the last few years and found it gives everyone ample time to unite without the agitation of compressed activities. It also shows them we respect their solo time spent appropriately. I say appropriately because they understand that while the leash may be relaxed over the summer, it’s even shorter than usual.
As much fun as summer is billed to be, it’s also a time of accidents, injuries, poor life decisions and unnecessary drama. By keeping the kids in check, we increase the opportunities for them to excel at more alternative activities and challenges. We also limit the time that one kid gets to aggravate the rest. We figure if each kid gets to pester the others one at at time, that’s 5 times the aggravation a day. That doesn’t even count Leah and I getting involved – Ha!
Another big factor in maintaining a flow of events is to ensure the kids continue to mesh. In a blended family, the kids gain exposure to their siblings on a limited basis throughout the year. Once everyone’s month begins, they’re now in a different situation by always being mixed together. It’s the difference between your aunt visiting versus moving in. It can get awkward.
In our case, Leah’s four kids are always together. It’s common for them to “pack” once Max arrives. It takes a bit until he’s openly included into the mix. Some step-siblings never break the barrier and remain isolated although they’re physically among a crowd of other new family members.
We love our kids. Truly we do, but as parents sacrifice is the name of game. Having everyone together also limits our opportunities to be alone. It’s vital that in catering to your kids that you don’t neglect your spouse.
Don’t forget the biblical model for family. It goes; God, spouse and kids. With that said, it’s also easy to put church on hold until school resumes. That’s a huge mistake. Summer is a fantastic time to attend during the week as well as the weekend. Keeping your Christian standard in line with God’s will helps ensure a wonderful summer break.
Keys to remember when dealing with space:
Allow individual space in limited amounts. Break up the blocks of alone time throughout the day.
Know what kids are doing while they’re in their own space. Idle time leads to nothing good where kids are involved. I always say,
“If I can’t hear them, I can’t trust them.”
Monitor and restrict online access. Most boys first discover and engage in regularly watching pornography while at home for the summer. One summer of regular consumption has the potential to imprint an addictive desire for a lifetime of watching porn. More than half of boys and nearly a third of girls see their first pornographic images before they turn 13.
No matter what they’re doing throughout the day, meals should be spent preparing and enjoying together.
Encourage sunlight and physical activity. Sedentary kids can gain weight over the summer which may cause self-esteem issues when they return among their peers.
Everyone should be treated equal but very different. Summer is a group time activity, but individual interests should be mentored and encouraged.
Imprint your family values. It’s near impossible throughout the hectic year to instill what parents hold dear as their core beliefs. Summer is the optimum opportunity to share those values with your kids. Taking the time to talk with them is important, but during long summer days together, it’s also vital that we show them.
Leah and I pray you’re having a blessed break from the school year,
I think I hear the pool calling,