My kids love each other to death. They’re basically best friends … during the school year.
But let me tell you, once summer break starts, they hate each other with a burning passion that rivals my own hatred for those nasty boogers that live in Kombucha.
They yell at each other. Slap each other. Steal toys from each other.
This morning, I even saw one of them steal a pancake off the other’s plate when she wasn’t looking.
What the heck?
They don’t even care when they have to serve consequences for those choices. They hand over that toy with a committed salute, like, “Goodbye comrade. We did what must be done today.”
I don’t get it. I’ve spent the past month trying to figure out exactly why things get so bad once summer hits because I don’t think I can listen to it for a minute longer. Yeah, I know they spend way more time together than they’re accustomed to, but why does that have to mean they gain such a distaste for one another?
Why can’t they just be SUPER PUMPED for having so much time to play together? (I live in fairy tale land, right?)
So with the intention of discovering the problem this week, I watched them interact to see what was causing all the problems. I think I’ve finally figured it out.
There’s a tiny little elf that crawls up the back of their necks and whispers bad ideas into their ears.
Kids just don’t handle change or lack of structure very well, and we’ve had a whole lot of that this summer.
My youngest one, for example, is used to being in structured daycare for nine hours a day, where meal times are always the same and every kid in the place has a certain role they fill. My oldest one is used to the structure of the school day, where her brain is challenged, she has endless social outlets, and the rules are very clearly written out all over the walls.
At home, I can’t provide that level of structure. It’s just not an option since I work from home and have weird hours. My kids are forced to “make do” a lot.
And when they’re left to their own devices, they create their own schedules, make their own rules (so to speak), set their own boundaries (within limits), and create their own little social paradigm.
Obviously, they’re building off the foundation we’ve already raised them in. They know that hitting is wrong and that name-calling hurts people, but the social rules change when it’s just them. If you multiply that times being together nine more hours of the day than they’re used to, you’ll find a recipe for disaster.
Plus, it’s one thing to have to play “puppies” with your little sister for thirty minutes in the evening. It’s another thing entirely to have to play it with her all day long (or suffer the consequences of her shrill scream for several hours).
All that being said, I do see some really cool benefits in the chaos of this summer.
You see, life isn’t always filled with structure. You can’t always expect the same thing to happen every day at the same time. My kids are learning self-management amidst changing circumstances. They’re learning emotional regulation during times of discord.
They’re also learning how to interact with one another without an adult telling them what to do, what to say, and how to say it.
Granted, they’re doing a pretty poor job of it right now, but it’s a learning process. (Haha – optimism!)
They’re learning that their parents aren’t put on the earth to be their entertainers. That’s huge for us. When the TV goes off and Mommy has to work while Daddy is gone for the day, they have to figure out how to beat boredom without making a huge amount of noise.
This might be them silently slapping the crap out of each other until one of them finally shows up in my office with a hand-shaped welt across their back, but it also might be them playing house for two straight hours without fussing at each other once.
I think as the summer progresses, we’ll have more of the latter and less of the fighting.
I’m choosing to enjoy it for what it’s worth, not wishing it away, because I’m still getting a lot more time with them than I do during the school year, even if I’m working here and there. I love watching them be each other’s only companions for the summer. I love seeing who they are deep down in their hearts.
Because we can’t teach genuine “goodness” of character if we never actually learn what our kids’ true characters are. When we focus on obedience and conformity, we learn how well our children can follow instructions and what motivates them to do so.
However, when we remove the rules and the motivations, we learn what their hearts really need to work on.
Summer breaks are good for kids. They might make adults want to pull their hair out, and they might make us yell, “JUST EAT A FRIGGIN POPSOCILE!” more than we usually would, but overall, I think they give us positive experiences.
(But don’t you doubt it. I’ll be happy as a clam when September rolls around again.)
Happy summer, friends!