Summer break. Some parents welcome it with open arms. Others feel like it’s more bricks, less straw.
Chances are, this past school year, you were plugging along at a good clip. The kids are ready for something fun, regaling you with friends’ scheduled Disney or beach vacays.
But maybe this exemplifies the split down your middle. I want to have fun with the kids! Let’s make memories! And on the other side? I’m not sure I have a drop of fun—or another car trip—left in me.
Time and space for soul care sometimes feels impossible for parents. But what if you could have your break-cake and eat it, too?
Maybe it’s easier than you thought to make a soul-care staycation a reality.
1. Step back and assess.
We’ve created a Soul-Care Assessment for you. Take stock of what’s going right and what you’re longing for.
Rather than working around your most deeply felt needs, take them into account. Could your limitations be something to celebrate and treat with sacred humility, rather than constantly shove further? Pray about them, asking God to meet them. You might reflect on Him as Shepherd in Psalm 23, asking Him to lead you beside green pastures and still waters.
Keep in mind the old joke of the man stranded at sea. When a boat comes to his rescue, he refuses: “God will deliver me!” He answers the same to a helicopter sent for him: “God will deliver me!”
When the man dies of starvation, he asks in heaven, “Why didn’t God deliver me?” A voice answers, “He sent a boat and a helicopter.”
What ways might God be presenting your relief that you might be tempted to rebuff?
2. Acknowledge the pressures you feel.
Is there an urge to keep up with the Joneses and their energetic, wow-that-sounds-exhausting, quality-time-filled camping? Or their family cruise? Is a friend treating her kids to a surprise-a-day? Are you a single dad who feels the need to compensate for the demands on his schedule? Though man, it’d be nice to have a day to yourself.
God asks us to consider ourselves with sober judgment (See Romans 12:3. What do I really have the resources to do?) and to not compare ourselves with other families (2 Corinthians 10:12). Jesus also modeled taking time for prayer and solitude, so His work and ministry could proceed from wholeness in His relationship with God.
For our kids, can we set rhythms of making spiritual space?
Recall, too, that parents around the world are struggling to feed their children on breaks from school. These families aren’t child-centered. You don’t need to feed a cultural sense of entitlement in order to make downtime meaningful.
We have an opportunity to teach kids about healthy rest, living within means (in terms of energy, too), and finding meaningful happiness right where we are (a.k.a. contentment).
3. Plan collectively, wisely, and with margin to address the needs of your family.
It’s hard to accommodate your youngest’s fixation on the arcade, your teenager begging to sleep in, and the animal magnetism of the novel at your bedside that’s been calling your name, personally and with feeling. But it’s easier if, as a family, you have key discussions ahead of time.
But hold your horses. First, chat with your spouse about each of your needs, hopes, and limitations. Are you wanting connection time with the kids? A date night with each other? A morning to sleep in or a day to work in the shop? Get on the same page.
Planning a recent family getaway, my husband and I were both surprised at what activities flew or flopped in the family vote. Without that discussion, we could’ve spent a chunk o’ change on some of the flops. And as a group, we shared more common goals than you’d think (e.g., vegging out). Then, help set kids’ expectations.
“Dad and I are feeling the burn of the schedule right now. We’re seeing you guys could use some down time, too. That means we’re not going to have a nonstop summer break of tons of activities. Instead, we want to focus on the stuff that matters to each of us and work together to make happen what we can. If you’re excited about an activity, you could help plan or propose a way to make it happen—like looking for groupons, researching how much it would cost, or giving us a list of what you’d need from the store.”
You could ask questions like these:
- What would a great summer break look like for you? Do you need rest? Are you hoping for fun? Are you wanting family time? One-on-one time with one of your parents? Friend time? (Scheduling hint: You could schedule one day for time with friends so everyone’s occupied at the same time.)
- What’s one reasonable, staying-here idea that (if it happened) would make your week?
Tip: Your kids, too, need help to see beyond the desires of their pre-developed frontal lobes, and have valuable talks to evaluate what they really need. Maybe that kid struggling with anxiety could use a week to sleep in and not see friends. Maybe your child bouncing off the wall needs some strategic releases of energy each day so he doesn’t send the rest of you to the funny farm.
4. Get strategic.
Set aside the “big rocks” each of you wants to accomplish, while acknowledging everyone may not get their hearts’ warmest, squishiest desires.
Think about the best ways to aim not just for quantity, but quality.
- You might try to have an individual “date” with each child.
- Give priority to scheduling time for spiritual rest, prayer, stillness, and listening. This means actually put it on the calendar.
- One or two “wow” activities here and there can often grant a lasting impression of a fun, off-the-beaten-path summer. Ideas? Family laser tag. Using one of the much-easier-now squeeze-bottle kits of tie-dye. Going to a meteor shower. Hanging up a sheet in the yard and borrowing someone’s movie projector for movies on the terrace (at home), complete with family members’ favorite snacks. Family-made fondue for dinner one evening.
- If a schedule helps you plan, consider scheduling one activity “slot” per week or every other week—low-prep, no-prep, or kid-prep being key. I like this plan. Once I’ve set aside that time and agreed on that expectation with my kids, I’ve accomplished my top goal of connecting with my kids and making a memorable break where they felt special. The remainder of the time, I can relax with more ease. I can model rest and rejuvenation for them.
- See how much white space you can still leave in your schedule. This is time set aside for nothing.
- A day with childcare or relatives is A-okay. One of my goals on kids’ breaks is to simply be present with them—to generally be around, not just for quantity, but for quality. If I’m there for quality moments, it’s just fine if I take a day to sit at a coffee shop and journal, go on a hike, or do something I love.
Someday, my daughter or son may be exhausted from parenthood. And in the recesses of memory, I’d like them to remember I took non-kid-centric time to listen to God, to enjoy Him, and explore His world.
Even if they don’t remember that, maybe they won’t remember the stressed, snippy version of me. Maybe rather than an irritable mom running on fumes, they’ll see Jesus more in me as I operate out of His fullness in me and a satisfied soul.
Copyright © 2022 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write On Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.