7 Sure-Fire Ways Parents Can Maximize Bonding Time This Summer
The irony of Summer is that the season with the longest days can feel like it's the shortest and that all of your plans have slipped away. Suddenly, your chance to bond and reconnect with your family is gone. However, it doesn't have to be that way.
Bonding means different things to different people, and it's a word that is especially fraught with pressure. As a parent, I often ask myself if I'm doing enough for my son to help him make positive and lasting childhood memories. To me, bonding as a family is about connecting and creating a deeper understanding of one another, which is easier said than done when life and work get in the way.
In an ideal world, we would have an infinite amount of time to play with our families without feeling the stress of other demands. As shocking as this statement may be, we don't live in an ideal world where money and time grow on trees. Yet Summer is the perfect reminder that memorable experiences can happen with a little preparation and thoughtfulness.
Maybe it was my one year in the Girl Scouts (I did it for the cookies), but I am a firm believer in being prepared. Everything should have a place, because organization makes everyone's life easier. Any parent knows that the hardest part of the day can be trying to get kids out the door. If it's not one kid taking off their freshly fastened shoes, it's another desperately trying to find their swimsuit that they swore was at the top of the stairs last week.
To alleviate the struggle of trying to leave the house with one's sanity, take the pressure off by having a Summer to-go bag. By my door is a backpack with a water bottle, sunblock, towel, swimsuit, diapers, and a few nonperishable snacks. No matter where we're going — whether it's the park, the beach, or a friend's house — this bag will go everywhere. Less time spent trying to wrangle my kid and his stuff means more time enjoying our mini adventure.
Make a Summer bucket list, both for yourself and as a family.
As a former teacher, I'm well aware that people learn and work differently. While brainstorming as a family for big Summer activities might work for you, other people and kids might need time to think about it privately. Give each member of your family time to create their own wish list of things they want to do or accomplish. Once everyone has had a chance to think for themselves, create a big chart together, and be sure to include your own dream activities. After all, bonding isn't just about doing what your kids want to do; it's also about providing time for self-care.
Don’t waste the wait time.
To me, besides sunburns and kiddie pools, Summer means waiting. There's the line for the city pool to open, the line for the ice cream truck, the amusement-park ride, or waiting for the fireworks to start. It's a good thing the days are so long because just standing in line can seem to zap most of the day. However, the tiresome wait doesn't have to put the fun, or the chance to bond, on hold. This is the perfect opportunity for games like "Would You Rather," "I Spy," or a child-appropriate edition of "Never Have I Ever." Suddenly, instead of staring at the back of a stranger's head or checking your phone, you're learning that your 8-year-old claims to have never picked their nose or that they would prefer to have an elephant's ears instead of a tiger's tail. What seems silly in the moment will help fill the time with laughter and thoughtful memories.
Itemize your time carefully, and be realistic with your schedule.
Going back to that idea about living in an ideal world, part of that dream life is that we all get paid to play with puppies and our mortgages are paid for in smiles. Until that day is realized, most people have to factor in their work schedules and other commitments. Be honest with yourself and your kids about big adventures and trips that they want to take, because saying "we'll see" could inadvertently get their hopes up and ruin what great work you've already done to make everyone have a great Summer. Schedule and stick to what you feel comfortable with. By planning ahead the big things, you can talk about it all Summer long, getting everyone excited to go camping in Yosemite or to visit a new baseball stadium.
Since big trips can be a burden and a drain on time, start to think about your hometown like a tourist would. Most towns have an established park area to go to where you can picnic, play games, relax, or draw a treasure map. In my city, every neighborhood park gets a couple of free concerts, Shakespeare performances, and movies. When your family is gathered together under the stars and watching the latest blockbuster on the big screen, all a few blocks from your home, bonding and memories will come naturally.
Have an indoor bag of tricks.
Chances are, at some point in the Summer, you will be forced indoors. If it's not the thunderstorms or the heat, then it may be that you just need a rest from all that fun you've been having. Another role that I used to play is that of a camp counselor. Wrangling 10 campers can be hard enough, but 10 campers on a rainy day could be next to impossible. Thankfully, we were instructed to always carry with us a literal bag of tricks. For me, this looked like a plastic bag filled with index cards of ideas, with various silly camp games like the human knot, ice breakers, writing activities, and arts and crafts written on them. Learning a new skill or solving a problem together can be an easy way to maximize bonding time.
Take lots of photos.
Summer will slip away so fast, and soon it will be Winter again. When you're busting out your snow boots, you'll be grateful for all of the time you got to spend with your family during the Summer, and photos will help ease you into the colder months. Goofy, cringeworthy, and funny: all photos are worth saving. After all, how can you lovingly embarrass your kid in the future if you don't have awkward family photos to prove things?