There are many stay-at-home moms that love summer-- freedom from obligations, staying up later, sleeping in, vacations, etc. Then there are those of us with kids who thrive on rhythms and routines and are monsters without them.
Whether there are special needs involved, or just a traumatic past, structure and predictability create a lifeline for many kids.
My youngest son spent 7 years in an orphanage; all he knew was structure and routine. He also has ADHD and has a hard time making decisions and enjoying unstructured play.
He is obsessed with his iPad because there aren’t many decisions to be made, and he is always in control. He does like the pool, but on rainy days he is at a loss for what to do.
When he would ask me what to do, I would make a suggestion and he would say “No, not that.” He couldn’t make a decision, but he also didn’t want me to tell him what to do. What a predicament for both of us!
So now we have an Activity Jar. It is just a small jar with popsicle sticks in it. Each stick has an activity on it; puzzle, Legos, Playdough, coloring, etc.
When he needs an idea of something to do, I hand him the jar and he picks an activity. It gives him autonomy, and he feels like it’s his decision since he made the popsicle sticks in the first place. Win, Win.
Even though I know that structure is important for my house to run smoothly, it is so, so hard during Summer. Sometimes I just want to watch movies at night (every night!). I just want to stay at the pool through dinner. I just want to sleep in and let them fix their own breakfast.
I have 1-2 kids that this works fine for, and then I have Charlie. He refuses to go to bed if the older kids are still up and yet he gets up between 5:00 and 6:00am every day. He can get his own breakfast, but yesterday that was a sleeve of Fudge Striped Cookies.
When he is off schedule and off structure, he is Off. It started the last couple of weeks of school, because we were all a little lax-- no homework, watching movies at school, class parties, etc., and it went right into the summer.
The first couple of weeks were so hard. We were eating dinner later, because why not? Something so simple should not ruin our whole evening… but it did. He was bonkers.
For the first week or so I thought, ‘It is not fair that this 49.5lb kid is running this house. My husband doesn’t get home from work until we are already eating dinner during the school year, during the summer we can wait. Eating later so that he can join us seems reasonable. And my other two kids will be fine if they stay up a little later—the NBA Finals are on!'
Yes, for 4 out of 5 of us, these things weren’t a big deal, but for Charlie the shift created instability and sometimes panic. We had to decide what our priorities were and most of us can agree, when Charlie feels safe and secure, we are all happier.
It is not "fair" to many of us, but it is a worthy sacrifice. Our whole night is different when it is predictable. And our summer will be different if we keep up rhythms and routines.
When we don’t stick with what is familiar, Charlie's brain is wired to fear: something is off, this doesn’t feel right, I don’t feel safe.
Many people, including some little people in our home, say that we shouldn’t bend to him so much; he will just have to learn to be flexible and to understand that he doesn’t always get his way.
And he will, eventually, but I believe that right now we need to prioritize him feeling safe and secure. The rest will come.
My other kids sometimes ask when Charlie will act “normal.” I have to remind them that his brain is not wired like a normal kid. It is wired for fear and self-protection because of all of the things he has gone through. And it is shaped by his past experiences.
We have to continually remind ourselves of that, and I believe our priorities and parenting goals should always have that in mind. It shapes the way we parent, the compassion we have, and the grace we give.