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7 ways parents can avoid summer burnout
If your family is anything like my family, then you have mixed feelings about the fallout from being locked down for months. While restrictions have eased in many places across the country, we really enjoyed certain aspects of being together, including the increased family prayer time and having more free time to spend together. On the other hand, we also are tired of not seeing our friends, worrying about the unknown future, having to wear masks, being separated from our parish community (though Mass has resumed, other parish events have not), and a bit worn out because we haven’t had much of a break from each other’s company.
Then there is the fact that summer is here. What are we supposed to do about being locked up together this summer? My teenagers normally go to a weeklong summer camp, a Steubenville youth conference, visit friends and play sports, and we may go on a vacation. Most of these things will be canceled. Many folks may not even have access to the pool they frequent. My college senior will be on an internship, but she isn’t too excited about it because of the changes that will have to take place. My rising college freshman won’t get a normal orientation to school, and some details on how life on campus will be dealt with are still up in the air. We have already had many disappointments, and the unknowns that lie in our future are without number. It is enough to drive even the best of families crazy. So, what can we do to avoid family burnout?
I have seven suggestions.
1. Pray more
As with any other part of life, it starts with the interior life. God wants to use this time of social distancing to make us better. If we have more time together as a family, perhaps God is asking us to use more of it with him in prayer. While we are distant from some others we love, we are called to draw even closer to the one who loves us best. I am certain of this: If we were to come out on the other end of this coronavirus pandemic as holier people, it would please God. So let’s make it happen. Let’s choose to pray even more. Start praying in a new way as a family. Try a new devotion together. Pray a novena. Host a daylong family retreat in your home. Keep the Sabbath holy by turning off all screens and spending the day playing together. All of these things can help us renew what is most important: our relationship with Jesus.
2. Start a project
Begin a long-term project that you can do together with all or part of your family. In the past few months we have overhauled our backyard, planted a vegetable garden, built furniture, put together picture albums, fixed things that have been broken for ages, and more. Between my wife and oldest daughter, we could have opened a bakery. Two other daughters have started taking so many creative photos that they may have begun a budding hobby. Allowing time for projects can not just pass the time, but give meaning to it. This is especially true in an age where phones, computers, TVs and other screens capture so much attention. Our children and spouse deserve our time. Let us resolve to give them more of it.
3. Get out of the house (safely)
While social distancing may still be the norm for the foreseeable future, we have to be creative in finding opportunities to spend time outside of the house. Walks are the rage in my house right now. But, it is getting so hot (we live in Texas!) that walks are going to be limited very soon. You could create a small and inexpensive water park in your yard. Perhaps your family could pick up trash in your neighborhood or along public trails. Maybe it is a weekly drive to a homebound elderly person in your parish to bring them a meal. Whatever it is, be creative. If you can also serve others while you are out of the house together, then that is a bonus.
4. Find joy in the little things
Personally, I have an aversion to certain games that others in my family like. But I know that sometimes I need to set aside my personal biases and play them anyway. Inevitably, when I do this, I end up enjoying the people, if not the actual playing of the game. This is one way I find I can find joy in a small thing. Of course I sometimes lose my patience, or I fail to find joy in the little things, but when I intentionally try to do what I know is best, the joyful moments are all around me. Watching birds near our house. Listening to my kids laugh together. Cooking a meal with others. There are many opportunities for each of us to find joy (and thus find God) in the little things.
5. Support each other
I am a realist. We all sin and mess up. We all have bad times and low points. We have this crazy thing called free will. In my house, we each love our own free will and hate everyone else’s free will. When this happens, we try to get our own way. Hurt each other. Sin. Still, we can forgive and heal, too. This means we all need to be able to give room to the lows that we all have. If your kids are struggling because they feel lonely being seperated from friends, then affirm their feelings. Give them an opportunity to talk. Pray with them. Comfort them. If they mess up and sin, then forgive them. It also may mean creating personal time to spend alone. As an extrovert, I have even learned that I need some “me time” every day. Growing as a family means helping one another when the other person needs us to be there.
6. Date your spouse
If you are married, you need to continue to date your spouse. Several times, my wife and I have made lunch and gone out on our back patio to eat alone when going to a restaurant wasn’t a choice (because they were closed). Other times, we have gone to a pavilion at a park. No matter how you do it, make special time to date your spouse. Maybe it means staying up an extra hour after the kids go to bed so you can watch a movie together (or half a movie if you can’t stay awake). One of the best gifts parents can give to their kids is an example of a healthy marriage, where each spouse prioritizes the other. Dating can also be an opportunity to have important conversations and can keep the spark of romance alive in your marriage. There are no bad reasons to date your spouse.
7. Set a routine
I am sure that most families with school-aged children had a decent routine during the school year. But, now that school is on break, you may have to adjust and find a new schedule. It is worth the effort to do so. In our family, we always make sure the priorities are done first — chores, personal prayer time, family prayer time, exercise, eating dinner together and any other responsibilities. After these are over, free time, limited screen time and other things may happen. Finding a routine in our schedules is good for us. It helps set expectations. It is like having a liturgy for your life. The rhythm to the day can help each of us.
Your family is a blessing. This time is a blessing, even if it is difficult. Let us all take advantage of the graces God is giving our families, so at the end we can all be better for it.
Marcel LeJeune is the president and founder of Catholic Missionary Disciples (CatholicMissionaryDisciples.com).