Spring has sprung and summer is almost upon us. Near are the days when school will be let out and our children will be home for the summer. For some, this is a time of joyful anticipation. Vacation schedules are arranged, long awaited holidays are planned, and preparations are begun. For others, the anticipation may be somewhat less than joyful. Visions of chaos, noise and perpetual untidiness come to mind. Choruses of “I’m bored, what can I do” never seem to end. Long awaited is that first Tuesday after Labor Day when the children return to school and life returns to normal.
As a parent of five children, two with special needs, I know from first hand experience that the demands of daily living can often seem overwhelming. Life seems to move too fast; keeping one’s head above water is sometimes the best we can do. Under these circumstances, survival is itself a monumental accomplishment.
But there are other times, times when the dust has settled a little and the storm has passed, that, at least for the moment, we are able to catch our breath. It is at these times that we are able to reflect upon our circumstances and consider other possibilities; other ways to better manage life’s challenges.
Listed below are a few thoughts and suggestions to reflect upon during those moments when there is a lull in the storm. Hopefully some will be helpful in making your summer a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
- TAKE CARE OF YOUR SELF. As the saying goes “you can’t give what you don’t got”. Being a parent is a demanding job. In order to effectively and consistently look after the needs of your family, you must regularly attend to your own needs as well. It is insufficient to attempt to find time for your self only when opportunity arises; you must make time for your self on a regular basis by scheduling it into your week. Sit down with your planner or calendar and schedule time for yourself within each week throughout the summer before writing in any other commitments. Make self-care a habit. Remember, recreation is re-creation.
- NURTURE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships are like flowers; if they are left unattended for too long they wither and die. This is especially important in a marital relationship. Children’s sense of security is closely tied to the stability they perceive in the relationship between their parents. The marital relationship also serves as a model for the children as to how they ought to relate to the opposite sex. Just as with scheduling time for self-care, one must also schedule weekly couple time. When couples take time to nurture their relationship, they strengthen the family as a whole.
- SPEND ONE TO ONE TIME WITH EACH CHILD. Spending one to one time with each child is an investment in your relationship with that child. During that time valuable rapport is built. Opportunities to discuss issues, which might not otherwise be mentioned, also occur. Children learn to look forward to their “date” with mommy or daddy. Other benefits often result from this one-to-one time as well. Given the opportunity to choose the activity to be done during the date (within predetermined guidelines concerning the limits of time and money), children quickly become aware of the value of time and money, especially under circumstances where it impacts them directly. Such awareness can be helpful when mom or dad want to have time to themselves, or with each other. By making time to spend with each child on a one-to-one basis, the message, “You are worthwhile and important to me”, is conveyed. This message goes a long way in building children’s confidence and sense of self-worth, while also reducing the apparent need children often have to seek attention in inappropriate and often frustrating ways.
- HOLD WEEKLY FAMILY MEETINGS. Family meetings serve several purposes. They create a very effective forum to plan for future activities, to delegate responsibilities, and to deal with problems and differences before they get out of hand. They provide an opportunity to develop leadership, cooperation and problem-solving skills. They save a great deal of parental time and energy by dealing with, all at once, most of the problems that occur throughout the week. They create commitment to the decisions made within the meeting by virtue of the fact that all present have had a part in the decision making process. In addition, they provide a very positive and encouraging way to deal with the relational challenges that occur in families. Family meetings are easy to implement and take relatively little time to conduct (see format and guidelines below).
- CREATE A SUMMER SUPPORT NETWORK. Other families are in the same boat; why not pair up and go on joint outings together, or tag team by taking turns looking after each others’ children so as to give each other a break. It’s amazing how cooperative and well mannered our children can be for other people. Joint outings are a great way to get a little adult company while also providing the kids with a welcomed break from the usual routine. By working together, we lighten each other’s load while also modeling the benefits and value of cooperation for our children.
- HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE IMPERFECT. This phase, coined by Dr. Rudolf Dreikurs, puts into perspective the tragic tendency so many of us has to avoid trying new things. We miss out on so much because we fear the pain associated with failure. As parents, our willingness to try new things and risk failure models an important quality of character for our children (courage) while also conveying to them a sense of our authenticity and credibility as parents and people.
In conclusion, use the summer vacation as a time to try new things, both for yourself and with your children. In doing so you will expand them, and yourself, in the process…. and maybe have some fun doing it.
Guidelines for Conducting a Family Meeting
Following are some suggestions for conducting a Family Meeting. For a more complete description of the process, refer to STEP: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting – The Parent’s Handbook by Dinkmeyer, McKay and Dinkmeyer (1997).
- REGULARITY – It is important to meet regularly. Meeting once a week at the same time is best. The length of meetings will depend on the ages of the children present, but generally should be about twenty minutes to a half hour in length.
- PLAN – maintain an agenda. Keep a list of items to be discussed at the next meeting in a place that is accessible to the whole family. The refrigerator is often a good place.
- COOPERATE – children usually enjoy the opportunity of “being in charge”. Encourage everyone to take turns in each role (i.e. note taker, chair person, time keeper). Allowing children to take an active role in the family meeting encourages them to take greater ownership of the process as well as the solutions that are generated within the meeting.
- MODEL RESPECT – take turns speaking; avoid interrupting, and limit complaining. It is often good to allow children to speak first when agenda items are introduced. Allowing children to speak first encourages them to feel more responsible, and again, helps them to take greater ownership and responsibility for the process.
- SHARE RESPONSIBILITY – list chores and take turns doing them. Initially, it can be helpful to volunteer to do some of the more onerous tasks which no one else likes doing. Over time these tasks can be shared more equally. Another means of distributing chores is to use a “job jar”. To use a job jar, collaboratively list the chores that need doing and then write them on small pieces of paper, placing each paper in the jar. Each week, take turns drawing chores from the jar.
- HAVE FUN – plan family recreational activities and provide choices within reasonable limits. Consider using a “fun jar” in which recreational activities, written on small pieces of paper, can be drawn from. During meetings, remember to focus on the positive, encourage effort and notice improvement. Discuss the positive contributions each member of the family is making and thank them for their help. Teach family members to encourage each other as well.Family meetings are a great way of encouraging positive interactions among family members. Regularly held meetings, provide a forum to respectfully discuss problems, find solutions, and live cooperatively together. Following is a brief, sequential outline of the Family Meeting process.CHECK IN – what good things have happened this week?
- READ PREVIOUS MINUTES.
- REVIEW OLD BUSINESS – discuss what went well, what didn’t go well.
- DISCUSS NEW BUSINESS – list what needs to be discussed, prioritize, and then discuss in order of priority.
- PROBLEM SOLVE – brainstorm possible solutions allowing the person who owns the problem to select the solution of his or her choice to be tried over the next week.
- PLAN FAMILY FUN – discuss what will be done for fun after next week’s family meeting.
- REVIEW SOLUTIONS & RESPONSIBILITIES – discuss who has agreed to do what.
Photo by Jordan Bauer on Unsplash