I hear it every year around this time. Moms declaring, “Man, this time of year is sooooo busy! I can’t wait for summer!” Then five minutes later they mention all the stuff they are planning to keep their kids busy in over the summer because they fear having their kids home all day for three months! (“Gasp…what would we do all day???) They mention everything from sports camps, art lessons, season passes to water parks, etc.. I even know one mom that would enroll her kids in 4 or 5 different churches’ VBS programs so that her kids would be occupied for a month or so!

We live in a busy society…and there are lots of “good” things out there for us and for our kids to do. There will always be better classes available , better teams to compete on, more birthday parties to attend, ministries to do, camps to attend, social activities to schedule, etc. (And we wonder why moms seems so tired and burnt out these days.) The point is, these are all good things, but sometimes we have to learn when to say “no” for the sake of our family. I also know that a lot of moms are worried about this summer in particular because their budgets are tight and they can’t fill their days with all the activities that they usually do.

Here’s the good news: you can have the “best summer ever” without spending a lot of money, and without scheduling a lot of camps and classes. This summer, instead of planning to fill our children’s days, let’s focus on filling their HEARTS instead! How do we do that? Well, first figure out what your goal really is. Does your schedule reflect your goal? If your ultimate goal is to raise, healthy, happy children who Love the Lord and know how to love and serve others, then the place to start this training is in a healthy, Christian home. This is their first classroom, and the Bible is the textbook and we as parents are their teachers. Building a healthy family is not a one semester course, it is something that requires, time, patience, repetition and on-going practice. Many parents think that if they are sending their kids to Christian camps and church activities that they have done their part in filling their child’s heart. These things are GREAT and should definitely support what you are trying to accomplish. But the fact is, you as the mom are one of the most influential teachers your child will ever have. Summer is the perfect time for you to invest in your children and work on your relationship with them and building a strong family unit.

So let me share with you just a couple of quick suggestions that can get your summer off to a great start. These suggestions will help provide the links that bond you together and create memories in the minds of your child that reaffirms who they are and that they have value to the rest of the family, fill their hearts, and create lasting memories.

1. Plan FAMILY activities as a family. Bring everyone together not only for the activity, but for the planning of the activity as well. Ask your children to list out some things that they would really like to do as a family this summer. You might be surprised at their answers. Sure, they might say, “Take a trip to Disneyworld,” but they might mention things like flying a kite together, going on a picnic, having a silly-string fight, etc.. Make a list of these things and try to do as many of them that you can. When your children look back at their childhood, they will remember very little about the day-to-day routine…..the meals they ate, what they wore, the chores they did, the classes they took, the friends they had over, but they will remember those special family times.
One hint: these activities need to be planned in advance and placed on the calendar. If you are like us, if you don’t set aside time to spend together as a family doing something fun, the summer seems to get filled-up with other stuff and then you wonder where the time has gone. Keep in mind that although it is fun to invite other families or friends, it is very important that your family have time just alone with each other.

2. Plan dates between a parent and child. Make sure it is something fun and that the conversation is positive. Use the time to reaffirm your love for them and point out the strengths you see in their character. Do not use the time to discuss problems. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive. In fact, your child will relish the uninterrupted time with you more than the actual activity.
3. Find ways to inject humor into your daily routine. Loosen-up and find ways to find the humor even in the mundane things. Tell your kids jokes, draw funny pictures, have a pillow fight, or just be silly.
4. Serve others as a family. Have your kids help you prepare and deliver a meal for someone, clean up the playroom after being at a friend’s house without anyone knowing your are doing it, gathering items for charity. I like to challenge my kids to find one “secret” thing that they can do to serve their siblings. They might make another’s bed, do a chore for them, or write them an encouraging note. This goes a long way in creating strong sibling relationships.
5. Play board or card games with your kids. Take turns choosing which game to play.
6. Continue to have bedtime routines even as your kids enter the teen years. Don’t let the loosened schedule of summer days take away from the special moments that happen at bedtime. We like to gather as a family and have a family devotional. Sometimes the older kids like to lead it as well.
7. Share family photos and memorabilia with your children. They love to hear stories from the past and research shows that when your share family history with your kids it strengthens the bond between family members. Tell them stories about when you were a kid and what you like to do.
8. Make family mealtimes a time to share. Encourage your kids to share their feelings, opinions, etc.… We love to give a question and have everyone go around and share. For example, “Everyone take a turn and tell me what you love about Daddy.”
9. Take walks together. This is a great time for conversation and planting seeds of truth in their hearts because you have their focus, especially when teaching boys! (I think boys listen better when they are moving.)

10. Read an exciting book together as a family. It doesn’t have to take long, but a few pages a day and you can finish a great classic book by the end of the summer.

11. Encourage everyone to share age-appropriate prayer requests and pray for them as a family. This is also a great way to teach them early the difference between a prayer request and idle gossip. Develop a “team” concept when it comes to teaching these character traits by using your last name. We say, “Carters don’t gossip, Carters try to find ways to serve others,” etc.. This inspires your children to be a part of the team.

God gave us the gift of family and we should cherish it and treat it as a precious thing. God designed the family to be a place that is nurturing, a place for training, and place for each member to express unconditional love to the others. Before we can effectively reach out and serve others as Christ commands, we must first learn to minister to the people in our own home. By doing that, we can influence many generations to come. We have such a small window of time to invest in our children. My prayer is that you will embrace your role as “Mommy” and see it as a calling and a privilege instead of something to endure. I hope that next fall your kids’ hearts are so full and your family is so strong that they will say, “I HAD THE BEST SUMMER, EVER!”

Many blessings to you and your family!