This past year has been an incredibly busy one for me and my family, full of activities, travel, work, volunteering, and everything else expected of a mom with kids at home. Our family had a daughter who was a senior in high school, who stayed busy with extracurriculars, and I was involved in many ways myself. We also decided to host an exchange student, and she lived with us for the entire school year. Thus, we had an extra teen and high school student in the house in addition to all our usual stuff. It was busy but fun and great in many ways.
Now that the school year is over, the senior daughter has graduated high school, and the exchange student has returned to her home, it’s summer, and a very quiet and empty one, uncharacteristically so. We have nothing planned! It’s a wonderful feeling. And whereas last summer I had some (what I thought were) modest goals, which I didn’t really achieve, this summer I have none. Well, aside from getting through it with my sanity intact. And that can be a biggie.
My parenting philosophy has always been taken from that of my mom and my own childhood: Mom isn’t responsible for keeping kids from being bored. That includes not scheduling stuff, or at least not much. I’ve always felt it was important for kids in many ways to be reared with this kind of parenting, mainly because it teaches them responsibility for themselves from an early age. They learn the world doesn’t exist to make them happy or fulfilled. It’s on them. And it allows them to just develop their creativity and thinking skills, given a sufficiently “stocked” environment. (In my feeling, this includes a mom who’s willing to spend some time reading with them, taking them to the library, and providing them some raw materials for play.)
I am not at all surprised when I read that studies bear out my (my mom’s) philosophy. This article on The Atlantic mentions several benefits for kids, such as learning “self-direction” and “self-regulation.” My job as a mom is to grow independent adults. It takes ’em a while, but I want them to be able to take care of themselves when they leave the nest. That is the idea, isn’t it?
I’ve never been a big “scheduler,” in part because I don’t want my kids to not have free time and this opportunity to self-direct, and in part because I don’t want to overschedule myself and our family as a whole. I admit that I did “schedule” my younger girls to have some summer classes in the mornings to give myself a little guaranteed time to myself and to give them the feeling that they have some balance of scheduled (but both fun and educational things) and nice wide-open afternoons. It’s a nice balance for us all so far, as I’m finding here at the end of “summer week 3.”
Here’s what I said at the beginning of the summer, and which I occasionally repeat as a gentle reminder of the “rules”: “I have generously paid for you to enjoy some fun things in the mornings (for five weeks). In the afternoons, and on weekends and other days you’re not in school, I have provided you plenty of options for things to do. Your rooms are now organized and reasonably stocked with art supplies, books, and toys; there are board games; we have things to do in the yard. I will go outside with you for some time most afternoons and watch you so you can swim. You have the responsibility of figuring out exactly what you’re going to do and when during all those off hours. I will not choose for you. Now, go and have fun!”
So far, the rules are working fairly well. I’m getting my paid freelance work done, I’m finally getting to the “eventually-to-do” lists (woot!!!), and everyone is mostly happy and well adjusted. I think my parenting philosophy is benefiting my kids, whether the studies bear me out or not. But they do. Ha!