I remember the feeling as a child – mid-June rolls around and the world is your oyster because IT’S SUMMER! Time for sprinklers and popsicles and visits to Grandma’s. Life was easy.

Now that I’m a working parent, the arrival of summer means that I have to figure out how I’m going to juggle our work schedule with our kids’ lack of schedule for a total of 55 long summer days.

I’ve been staring at a calendar for the last three months jotting down notes about which child will be where with whom on what day. While it’s not quite enough to make me long for winter, it is enough to make summer feel more like a rat race than Mother Nature ever intended.

With summer’s official arrival, I’m acutely aware that this amazing season could end up feeling like a vacation that we spent more time planning than enjoying, so I’m trying to cultivate a new approach to unscheduled time this summer. Instead of freaking out, over-scheduling, and planning our days down to the last minute, I’m going to make every effort to be more mindful of the time we have. I want to remember the joy of my childhood summers and open the doors to welcome its return. 

Here are the promises I am making to myself and my family this year:

1 | I will play. 

It is all too easy to sit back and watch our children play, perhaps using this much-needed time to prepare dinner or weed the garden or check our work email. Watching them certainly brings vicarious joy and the pleasure of seeing our children happy, but this year when my kids are throwing water at each other or building a fort in the woods I am going to join in as much as I can. 

Creating memories together is one way of showing our children how much we love and treasure them; it can also help us to experience valuable reconnection with our kids, making more room for them in our busy lives.

2 | I will let my children play. 

After researching the importance of free play for kids, especially in nature, I’m doubling my efforts to create the space for this to happen for my own kids. Rather than scheduling a different camp every week, I’m working with other like-minded parents to arrange alternating play dates and testing out a mother’s helper so I can occasionally work from home. On these days, my children can create their own adventures with their friends and we all find joy in watching the self-reliance, creativity, and physical growth that comes with free play. 

3 | I will set my away message (and actually be away). 

Whether I’m on an actual vacation or just one of my days off from work (I am lucky enough to have negotiated a few extra weeks off during the summer), I will stop incessantly checking my phone to see if an email has come in that I need to address. I will put down the technology and actually be present with my family. I’ll pay attention to the silly face my daughter makes when she finds a bug on the deck; I’ll notice when my son is feeling hot and tired and suggest that we lay down under our sprawling maple to look at the branches against the sky; and I’ll dig my hands into the soil in the garden, nurturing my own need for physical movement.

4 | I will nurture connections with other families. 

Families that can play together, at both the kid and adult level, are a valuable asset to modern life and summer is the perfect time to foster these relationships. These are the families we can invite over (or drop our kid with) at a moment’s notice; the people with whom we can laugh about our crazy parenting mistakes; and the people with whom we can sit and talk for hours while the children jump on a trampoline until their legs turn to Jell-o. 

It can be easy to let weeks pass in the middle of a school year without this kind of laid back gathering, but in my humble opinion it should be at least a weekly event during the summer.  This is our tribe. These are our people. Having them in our lives helps bolster our spirits for the more challenging moments. 

5 | I will re-read this article every 3-4 weeks..

…to make sure I haven’t forgotten my promises to myself and to my kids. After all, just because it’s summer doesn’t mean I’m any less likely to get caught up in the neverending hamster wheel of life.