Parenting Through the Storm Blog

Parenting information and support for parents who have a child who is struggling. The official blog for Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between by Ann Douglas (HarperCollins Canada, January 2015 + Guilford Press, September 2016), a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge.

The Recipe for a Perfect Childhood Summer

childhood-summer

There are only so many summers of childhood—and they tend to fly by in a flash. One minute, your child is hopping off the school bus on that final day of school, practically intoxicated by the heady sense of freedom and possibility. The next, she's gearing up to head back to school—and wondering where on earth the summer went….  

But here’s the good news: we’re still only a few weeks into the much-anticipated gift that is summer. We still have time to hit the pause button to consider the kinds of memories we want our kids to carry with them from the summer of 2017.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and I've come up with a recipe of sorts for the perfect childhood summer.

Like all good recipes, the ingredients are simple, readily available, and generic enough to allow for substitutions—and the list of ingredients is short (just three!) 

  • The first is “food”—because you can’t talk about summer without talking about food. 
  • The second is “family and friends”—because that’s the active ingredient in our most powerful summer memories. 
  • And the third is “freedom and fun”—because summer is also a time of year for testing limits, sidestepping everyday routines, and otherwise embarking on new adventures.

Food

When I was thinking back to my own most memorable childhood summers, I was struck by just how many of those memories are somehow anchored in food.  The rich charcoal-y taste of anything cooked on my parents’ 1970s barbecue grill. The crunch of corn on the cob served at late-summer corn roasts: a sure sign that summer was winding down. And, of course, the sticky deliciousness of a marshmallow that’s been allowed to catch on fire for a couple of seconds over a campfire, thereby achieving marshmallow goo nirvana.

This is something that food writer Bee Wilson talks about in her recent book First Bite: How We Learn to Eat. She argues that our memories are deeply anchored in food—and that this is especially true when it comes to the foods that we experience in childhood. “You may not be able to remember what you had for lunch last Tuesday, but I bet you can recall the habitual meals of childhood, the breakfast you were given for a weekend treat, and the way bread tasted in your house. These are the memories that still have emotional force years or even decades later,” she writes.

These memories are both anchored to celebrations and tied to ordinary moments—think potato salad at the family reunion versus going berry picking or hitting the farmers’ market as a family. So you definitely want to look for opportunities to build some of these food memories into your kids’ summer.

Family and friends

The great thing about summer is the fact that we tend to have a bit more wriggle room when it comes to scheduling. Most of us take at least a little time off, which allows us to venture a little further afield. It’s the time of year for picnics and barbecues and family reunions: a chance to spend some relaxed and unscheduled time in the company of people we love (and who love us right back). The families we are born into as well as the families we create for ourselves…. 

These kinds of get-togethers give kids the opportunity to reconnect with aunts and uncles and cousins that they might only see once a year—members of an eclectic off-stage cast of characters in the ongoing story that is their life. They are reminded that they belong to something so much bigger than themselves by virtue of their connections to these people. They are rooted. They belong. 

My Grandma Bolton worked really hard to nurture this sense of family. We’d get together to celebrate each of her milestone birthdays and she’d organize sleepovers at her house for various grandchildren, in the hope that at least some of us would go on to become life-long friends. I’m happy to report that she got her wish. My relationship with my cousin Karen is still going strong more than four decades after the first of many grandma-initiated sleepovers. The gift of my cousin’s friendship is her lasting legacy to me.

Freedom and fun

Kids need the opportunity to learn and grow—and summer is the perfect time of year for the unscripted, unstructured play and exploration that fuel self-discovery.

This is something Eileen Kimmett, a Peterborough, Ontario, mother of three school-aged kids thinks about a lot. Her advice to other parents who are wondering how to allow time for the magic of childhood summers to unfold? “Keep it simple. Do schedule field trip days, but don’t overbook or overschedule. It’s okay to stay home and do nothing. I’m certainly learning that this year. You don’t have to go to every event. It’s really, really neat to explore places that you’ve never been to – and you can do it with the kids.”

So, it’s about leaving enough time in your kids’ schedule for them to learn how to create their fun—as opposed to feeling like it’s somehow your job to make the fun happen for them. Because, really, isn’t that what a childhood summer is supposed to be about—being given license to make your own fun? Having the freedom to build your own tree fort and having the time to simply float around on an inner tube, staring up at the clouds while your mind wanders and your cares drift away? 

Instructions

So there you have it: the three key ingredients in the recipe for a perfect childhood summer. And now a few parting thoughts that can double as recipe instructions!

First, don’t make this harder than it has to be. Take advantage of ordinary moments as opposed to feeling like you have to do something hugely complicated or expensive. Less important than what you’re doing is the fact that you’re doing it together—and forging some powerful summertime memories along the way.

Secondly, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have endless time. There are only so many summers of childhood. Don’t let this one pass your kids by. Think about the types of memories you want your children to carry with them from their one-and-only childhood—and then do what you can to help them start making those memories, starting right now. Seize the summer, moms and dads….