When you’re a kid, summer means freedom. No alarm clock. No bedtime. No cafeteria lunches. No homework. No rules. No one telling you what to do all the time. Read that list again as the parent and try not to hyperventilate. You want to make the most out of summer and the quality time with your kids, but you also want to survive. You want all those memories of afternoons at the pool, and chasing the ice cream truck and fireflies, but you also want to get some sleep and eat just one meal that includes a vegetable. You want peace, not war among siblings. You also want to reclaim the joy that once was summertime. So here’s your twelve-step plan to keeping it together when school’s out so that you make it a season you want to remember.
1 | Make a new schedule
There’s nothing like that first day waking up after school’s out and knowing you’ve got nowhere to be. Nothing beats the thrill of wearing pajamas all day and eating pizza for breakfast and ice cream for dinner.
However, that can only last so long before the whole house loses its equilibrium. We all need sleep, hygiene, and some kind of schedule before we turn into zombies. So plan your days, at least a little. If you want to hit the park every morning and the pool in the afternoon, great! You’ll have structured mealtimes in between play-times and everyone will be sufficiently worn out for bedtime, which can hopefully still happen at a reasonable hour.
2 | Make playdates on the regular
If your kids are in school, they’re used to socializing, and while they love you to pieces, they’re going to miss their friends. If you don’t live in a neighborhood swarming with kids, you’ll want to set up regular playdates. This gives you a break as the entertainer and lets them run with the pack for a bit.
3 | Book a camp
Like swimsuits, there are camps for all shapes and sizes. My twins are three and even they can go to a day camp through a Mother’s Day Out program. Depending on your child’s age and interests, you can decide whether a day camp or an away camp would be best. Not all camps involve horseback riding and archery. Check out art, writing, church, or technology camps as well.
4 | Choose your own adventures
Because you’ve got more hours in the day to play with, you can do all the things you were too tired to do on the weekends during the school year. Take a trip to the aquarium or the science center or the amusement park or the county fair. It’s like those choose-your-own-adventure stories, but better, because it’s real.
5 | Play lawn games
Summer is a season that calls for doors wide open all day long and dining al fresco. No shoes, no shirt, no problem. Embrace the warm weather with all the lawn games that will remind you simultaneously of college and the elderly: cricket, badminton, baseball, croquet, lawn bowling, beanbag toss, frisbee, kites, bocce ball, horse shoes…the list is endless.
6 | Schedule swim lessons
So that you don’t panic every time you enter the pool zone, sign your kids up for swim lessons early and let them get comfortable in the water. Trying to teach your own kids swim safety at the pool at 11 a.m. on a Saturday is nearly impossible – like meditating in a mosh pit. Get a good teacher and let them mold your kids into confident swimmers. That way you might be able to sit down at the pool once in a while.
7 | Take a break
This one’s all for you. Plan a few date nights or morning brunches or anything at all that you can hire a babysitter for so that you can escape for a few hours. We all need breaks and with school out you’ll have to build them in yourself. Don’t feel guilty about it either. The kids might like a break from you too. No hard feelings. We just all need a little “me time.”
8 | Tell yourself that vacation rules
As in “rules!” with a thumbs up and a “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” accent. It can, in fact, be the “most excellent” adventure if you let it. Yes, we are the grownups and have to think practically and pack practically and plan practically, but we can also play like kids. We can let the road and the days take us where they may. It’s hard to set down the mantle of adulthood, but your kids will appreciate it and adulthood will always be there when you get back.
9 | Plan one-on-one time
When school’s in session, quality time comes ready-made. Drop one kid at swim or piano lessons and get an hour with another. However, in the summer, it’s everybody all the time. Which is why planning a date with each one is so important. They need it and so do you. You need to look each other in the eye and have one uninterrupted conversation. It resets the familial bond and keeps everyone from getting lost in the shuffle.
10 | Call in the troops
Call the grandparents and any other relative or friend within driving distance and haul them into your summer. You plus kids equals exhaustion pretty quickly when you don’t have a buffer. Relatives and close friends are shoe-ins for some extra quality adult time. They want to spoil your kids and they give you someone to talk to outside the kid kingdom.
11 | Eat popsicles and vegetables
If I let myself, I will eat Chinese takeout three times a day until someone or something (MSG, food poisoning, sodium overdose) stops me. It’s worse in the summer when everyone’s on the go and the ice cream truck inevitably rolls around at dinner time. While you should never pass up eating a push pop, you know you’ve got to get in the vegetables and all the other levels on the food pyramid. So take your kids to the farmer’s market and pick out the fresh stuff or plant your own garden. Do whatever it takes to counteract (at least a little) the sugar and fast food overload that is the definition of summer.
12 | Hit up the back-to-school sales
If you’ve made it to step 12, you’re in the home stretch. Possibly the best (for you) and worst (for them) part of summer is the end, when they can count on fingers and toes the days until school starts up again. Despite this, I don’t know a kid who doesn’t like a new backpack or outfit, even if it is for school. Psych them up for fall by checking the sales early and marking the tax-free weekend on your calendar now.
Summer is and should be fun. It was when you were a kid and it can be again as you relive it with your kids. Now you get to be the adult that calls them in for dinner and wins them a goldfish at the fair and rubs in the sunscreen on tiny shoulder blades. It doesn’t have to be about survival. It can be all the good stuff too. Summer is freedom for everybody involved.
*This article originally appeared on Parent.co.