Maintaining Sanity in the Summertime is Possible, It's Just Rare 

By Jen Holman


Ah, summer. No school, no organized sports, no making lunches or homework, or worries about laundered uniforms. Wait. No school? No sports?

Each June I feel the same way: a mix of excitement and dread. On one hand, life is easier. It’s slower, less scheduled, and we have plenty of free time. There won’t be fights over sock seams in the mad rush to dress for school. We can stay up and sleep late—not that my early risers ever do.

But with all this free time and lack of structure comes boredom, arguments and, all-too-frequently, an over-stressed mama. Having the kids home together all day, every day challenges my patience. And, OK, I’ll admit it: Sometimes I lose my cool.

Have you ever seen a mama dog growl, bark and even nip at her own puppies? She never really hurts them, of course; only scares the bejesus out of the little heel-biters. Summertime often puts me in the same mood. Someone asks for a second popsicle for the umpteenth time and I turn around snarling. I know what I look like. I’ve recoiled from the mirror. Lips pulled back and teeth bared—I scare the bejesus out of my little heel-biters.

I want summertime to be fun and free. I want my kids to explore and imagine and create—to get dirty like I did. Growing up on a working cattle ranch in west Arkansas, my sister and I were often left to our own devices. We climbed trees, made mud pies, hiked through the forest, and bathed the cats. Our generation of helicopter parenting is so different than the one I grew up in, and irrationally so since the crime rate is as low as it’s been in decades. But I digress. We’re talking about staying sane in the summer.

So, what can we parents do to keep our cool in the hot summer months? I’ll tell you what works for me, and for some others I’ve quizzed about the topic. First, I think it’s important to say that at least some of the problem is a direct result of my actions. It’s tough, but I have been making a conscious effort to adjust my expectations. It’s so easy to get angry when my kids don’t hop in the car (or put on their clothes, or eat their breakfast) the first time I ask. I have to remind myself to slow down, that there’s no real rush except the one I’m imposing. Adjusting expectations and slowing down hopefully means less stress, both for the kids and for me.

Another strategy for avoiding an entire summer in which mommy is a meanie is creating diversions. A friend says if she doesn’t have her kids out of the house by 10 a.m., whether they go on a walk or out for smoothies, all heck breaks loose. To avoid clashes between them, they make sure to leave the house at least for a little while each morning.

As for my family, sometimes we go to the park before it gets too hot. We walk the dog or wander the aisles of Target. We are so lucky to live in central Arkansas where there are plenty of free things to do. From the city-operated splash pads, to Two Rivers Park Bridge, to the Game and Fish Commission’s Nature Center, to the Clinton Children’s Library, there are a multitude of options out there to have a fun day exploring, creating and imagining. And then ideally, after a full day of diversions, everyone crashes into bed exhausted and happy.

Maybe your kids are at school while you work, and beg for the pool the moment you pick them up. Do you get tired of saying “no?” One friend suggests keeping a fully packed pool bag in the back of the car, complete with swimsuits, towels, sunscreen, toys and cash. You could say, “yes” on a whim and not face the stress of rushing home to pack and change.

When I remember my summers as a child, I think of snapping peas with my Granny, of finding crawdads in the creek, of watching movies and sleeping late. I remember picking flowers and warming my face in the sun. I recall thinking that if I just swung high enough, I could fly right into the cool water of the pond. I hope my kids look back and remember some of the same simple pleasures. I’m going to try to slow down and help them make those memories. I’m going to try to stay cool—and keep my cool—this summer. 

Jen Holman is often irreverent and frequently imperfect. But she’s happy, by God, and that’s what matters. She lives in Little Rock with her husband and three children, striking that delicate balance between inspiration and frustration. Jen has published three novels under the pen name Jen Crane, the second of which was selected by iTunes/iBooks as “Our Pick” in fantasy sci-fi.