But in order to sort of thrive instead of just survive, I had to come up with some ground rules for our routines at home, otherwise I'd go insane and my kids would never cease to bug me about what is next and if they could do this or that. Rules and routine definitely help with managing expectations, and it's something I've learned early on with four kids and my own sanity, that I must have.
So we set about figuring out a few camps and classes here and there for my three older kids. And then it was all about what to do while home. So I came up with a list of "Must Dos" for the kiddos. In the past, we've had contracts that they must sign and commit to doing certain things before being granted screen time, but really my goal was to just eliminate screen time entirely or limit it to online learning or a super short show (Mini Force is not only in Mandarin on Netflix but is only 10 minutes each episode!).
MUST DOs: Learning was the first thing I wanted them all to do consistently, no matter how our day went. So I decided on an hour of learning (online for Bubba through the Waterford Upstart program, Mandarin Matrix for Jordan, and whatever Dagny felt like which is usually a combination of workbooks and online stuff too). The morning routine remained the same, but instead of requiring everyone to have had their beds made and clothes on before breakfast, I let the kids eat at breakfast with their blankets and pajamas. And bed making seems to have fallen out the window for the time being, but I kind would rather their rooms be picked up and neat, than their beds made, so that's been my main objective lately. And, it's a nice little way of being more lax during the summer. Other things that were important to me to have on a daily basis were outside play (weather permitting) and reading. And then, on top of all that, I also want them to help out around the house, but we don't like calling them "chores" because quite frankly, it sounds like a chore! Instead, it's helping others or a contribution, or a family responsibility. I don't get paid to take care of my family, but I don't consider it a chore either. It's an opportunity, and it's so important for my kids to understand that. This small paradigm shift has been pretty key in our kids helping out around the house.
Side note and digression: Sometimes, to be honest, they just don't want to help. Around Valentine's we had some "sweetheart" candies in a small vase, and everytime someone did something "sweet" or deserving of being called a "sweetheart," they would also get a sweetheart candy. My kids did so much "helping" that month. There was love everywhere. But even now, now that the sweethearts no longer sit there as physical incentives to help out, if I ask, "can someone help Mom," I get crickets... and then I ask, "who wants to be a sweetheart?" and someone will inevitably volunteer to do the task I'm asking for. I think it's a mindset of understanding that when they do this item, they are helping out, and being a "sweetheart" versus being asked to do something and not feeling like anyone is grateful for their help, that it's just expected. Hey, I feel the same way when my kids commend me for a great dinner.. I don't, however, feel so great when they're complaining about how much they hate the dinner I spent so much time putting together. I think we forget it works both ways, with kids, they want to be noticed and complimented for their hard work contributing too!
And the last thing we added to our Must Dos was "quiet time," which I had heard so much about from friends, but never before attempted. But with the1 year old still napping once a day, I wanted a given time just for me. So I set my kids up for success by explaining to them the way quiet time would work for us: they must be "quiet" in their room or a sibling's room, but they cannot go anywhere to bring anything in after quiet time has begun. That means any books or toys they wanted in there, have to go in with them in the beginning. No fighting or screen time opportunities are lost (normally they can have screen time while I work out, or they can earn it through development on the areas they need most improvement on, and this is different for each kid, depending on the challenges each is faced with). Same goes for screaming, and the only exception to being able to come get mom is if you need your butt wiped. Yes, my kids still need help with their butts.
Can Dos: Then, we came up with a list of "Can Dos" which essentially is a general outline for our bucket list this summer. They encompass everything my kids might want to do and everything Mom's willing to take them to do on my own. Our other list of things we can do are listed out generally as playdates (with friends at their homes or our homes), art projects (includes cooking projects because anal me wanted the same number of bullet points for both lists.. hehe), science projects, library trips, running errands, an adventures (trip to the mall playground, obstacle warrior gym, zoo, splash pad, museum, etc. and can and most often will include our friends, because that's just more fun for everyone).
Just being able to detail the stuff our helps the kids out as they wonder what we are up to each day. So far, the key part of this whole equation has been my kids playing so wonderfully together, coming up with new games, using their imagination, looking forward to whatever is next, and having fun together. There's still some fighting, lots of "I hate yous" and "he/she hit me!" complaints, but all in all, we are loving the lazy summer days. I have gotten so much done around the house with my kids at home! I am actively involved with them during meals, we usually read together, and try to get in some alone time with each kid (I'm not yet consistent about this but working towards it) and I have my own list of DIY projects I'm hoping to accomplish this summer, with or without my kids'
The "Must Dos" give us just enough structure for the day, while the "Can Dos" keep us attentive for the rest of the time. The best part is hearing my sweet kids play together, and at the end of the night, have all three tell me separately, how much they love summer.
When I was a kid, my summers were so lonely and boring. I never understood why other American kids seemed so excited for summer. School seemed so much more fun! Back home, I had super workbooks, but I hated them, thought they were too easy, and never got in trouble if I did it, or if I didn't, so I didn't and would often fib that I had. Nobody ever checked. I wasn't accountable to anyone. I spent most of my days watching Disney movies on VHS (no cable or DVR or Netflix like the lucky kids these days!) hoping my mom would sign me up for summer school, and being bored, and then some more bored again. I had a few classes here and there, but they never supplemented the boredom I felt at home. If we did anything fun, it was mostly on the weekends, because both my parents worked when I was younger, and once my mom decided to stay at home, she eventually would be doing real estate and I'd be in PSAT classes by that time... so summer didn't feel any different than the other seasons, just more confined and limiting. Now with my kids, I get why summer is fun. Summer is a blast! I am having so much fun with my kids, and I am treasuring these moments when most of summer is spent with me and the moms and their kids that I choose (Ha!). I finally get it. I think it took my oldest going to first grade for me to realize how great the lazy SAHM days were with my entire crew. I remember rolling my eyes at the more seasoned moms telling me I would miss this busy time with all my little kids. I get it now though. They weren't talking about the crazy trying to juggle all four kids at the same time with blowouts, tantrums, and needy mom moments, they were talking about golden rainbow unicorns of everyone happy, loving mom, and hanging out with mom. I get those for about 10 minutes each day when we're all sitting on the couch reading and my youngest even tries to get in on my lap for about 2 minutes before he's done. Sure it's only been a few weeks, but so far, summer is kicking non summer's butt. And it's pretty darn amazing.