About halfway into summer vacation, parents start mentioning “my kids are driving me crazy!” Then, they list out what their children are doing (or not doing) to make them crazy–not picking up wrappers from snacks, dishes all over the house, clothes gathered around the laundry basket instead of being in it, getting up at 11 am and going to bed at midnight and reminding you that they are “bored” 582 times a day. Parents will read off this list and then appear guilty and ashamed for complaining about the very children they love more than life itself.
So, what is going on and what needs to change to reduce the craziness?
First, most families go into summer vacation without discussing the expectations for the summer, the household and the family during the summer. Everything in the house changes during summer vacation and it is often not recognized. During the school year everyone has a routine–chores and homework are done after school. While normally there is a known sequence of events, during the summer, that routine is typically thrown out the window. On one level this can be freeing. On another level, it often creates chaos.
Parents also want a break from the chaos of the school year and want their hard working students to have a break. They drop their expectations. Then after a few weeks of everyone living up to zero expectations, they find that wrappers are everywhere, bikes are left in the middle of the driveway, and wet swimsuits are in a ball on the bed. Tensions build and parents are yelling and threatening. All of this is met with wide-eyed children who are confused with this reaction. There were no expectations on them–remember?
What is a family to do?
Time for a family meeting. Not an intimidating, sit down at the table while parents lecture type of meeting, but instead, a “let’s go to dinner as a family” kind of family meeting.
Start the meeting reviewing the summer–the best moments, favorite events, proud moments, and goals for rest of the summer. Then begin to discuss any frustrations with everyone getting a turn at being heard (this is where a public setting comes in handy; it will lessen the chances of yelling). After frustrations are aired, discuss how to fix them as a family, discuss the expectations for your family, and ask what everyone is willing to do to help the family function at its best.
Then, discuss the expectations of the house in general. This is where parents need to be clear–“It would be nice if you put away the gallon of ice cream or it melts. I am only buying 2 gallons a month.” Make expectations clear and simple. Often, parents give statements, commandants, and threats all in one long sentence and the message gets lost. Praise the kids when the expectations are being met. Remind them with one sentence when the expectations are not met, “hey ice cream needs to be put away.” And most importantly, remember you will need to remind them again and most likely you will need to remind them often. They are kids. Our job is to get them ready for the world. They aren’t they yet but they are getting there. Be patient.
Have a great rest of the summer. Breathe and relax. One day you won’t have to remind them to put the ice cream away–and you will miss it.