Q: As we come to the end of the summer, the idea of having all my children home for 10 days is a little overwhelming. The time after camp, just before school, is difficult. Even though I greatly appreciate the brachah of having my children home, this time of year just accentuates my lack of organizational abilities and my lack of general patience (with myself and others). I definitely breathe a sigh of relief when my last child climbs onto the bus to school.
I have children of all ages, which complicates things. No matter how diligently I try to think ahead, there are always things I need to do that I have forgotten about, and things that I never knew I had to do. I end up spending more time out of my house than I had anticipated, and it becomes very difficult. My children don’t do well without structure, and the fighting that goes on in my house is always worse at this time of year. I try to send them off to my mother-in-law for some of this time, but she works part-time and doesn’t really want to be a babysitter for pre-teens and teenagers.
How can I make this time of the year more manageable?
A: If you find that your children thrive on structure and can’t just sit around and read books (which describes many families in our contemporary society), you need to create your own structure within the parameters of what you need to accomplish and the recreational needs of the family members who remain home when you may not be there to supervise them.
Structure may include creating an informal family “day camp,” where an older sibling can be the “counselor” who gives out prizes to those who follow the schedule. If younger children can choose small prizes (and stickers as they work towards these rewards), they will feel more like part of the group process rather than like small family members who need to be entertained. The camp schedule can include davening, arts and crafts, water time (the backyard hose), story-telling time, or creating a skit on Torah topics. Some form of sports can be part of the program, as well. A family goal such as cleaning out the basement, pulling out backyard weeds, or putting photographs in photo albums are examples of family projects during “camp project” time.
The more official the structure, the more successful the camp can be. A typed and printed schedule and “certificates of appreciation” (for good middos, etc.), can be given out daily. Days reflecting exemplary family achdus can be rewarded when a parent is available, by a trip to the ice cream store or park. Older siblings can also be rewarded for their efforts in coordinating these activities.
Though this project may seem to be a large undertaking, our children have learned to be resourceful in creating activities in camp and on an extra-curricular basis, and they can utilize these talents to create a positive and cheerful environment in our homes during this time period. If siblings are motivated to behave to receive “family rewards” (such as going to the ice cream store), they can remind each other of the potential reward in order to stop sibling fighting. Sometimes, when a group reward is mentioned, it is enough to stifle the eternal question of “Who started this fight?” (In reality, most sibling fights are continuations of cycles of similar problematic themes that have begun long in the past, and have little to do with the current “crisis.”)
Unstructured time periods can be used for positive, unifying family experiences and goals, but some planning is needed in order for this to occur.
The continuation on teasing from the previous column will be published next week, iy”H.