Mom, does keeping your sanity in the summer already sound like, “Mission: Impossible”? Does the thought of having all the children home for the summer months have you imagining an escape to a deserted island where you can be alone? Are you already signing your children up for every vacation bible school and summer camp you can find and it is not for their sake? This article is for you. You see, I have survived summertime with seven children for decades. After successfully raising seven children with my husband, Deacon Pat Mongan, M.D., I can confidently say that summertime can become the biggest blessing of your year. You will not only keep your sanity, but you will enjoy yourself as well. You may even be sad to see your children go back to school when the summer comes to an end.
How do you make your summer come alive? A successful summertime does not just happen; it requires a lot of planning and preparation, and a lot of love. It’s easy to let your children wake up at noon, then sit in front of the television, game box or computer all day except to get up to eat or use the bathroom. However, what is the fruit of that? Have they grown physically? Have they grown mentally? Have they grown spiritually? No, they have just grown lazier and more self-centered. Moreover, they have not used their brain to its full capacity. When my children were of school age, I always used summer as a chance to challenge my children to “be the best they can be!” I took the job of training my children up seriously. I trained them physically if they were a toddler by helping them learn to potty training. I taught the older children cooking, cleaning and other life skills. I trained my children mentally by teaching them how to read, and how to learn good study habits. I trained them spiritually by instructing them in their faith and encouraging them to grow in virtue. It says in the book of Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he gets old, he will not depart from it.” There is an old wise saying that goes, “If you don’t aim, you will miss the target every time.” The Word of God agrees when it says, “My people perish for lack of vision.” I think God had moms in mind when He wrote that scripture. I encourage all moms to have a vision or plan for your children’s summer. Begin today mom and prayerfully seek God’s direction for a summer plan. Summer is upon us!
So, how do you begin? The first thing I do before summer arrives is to buy myself a five-subject notebook. On the top of the first page I write the words, “Summer Goals.” Then I write each child’s name. Under each name I write these three headings: Spiritual Goals, Physical Goals and Mental Goals. Lastly, I write my name with the same headings under it.
Next, I pray and ask God to guide me as to which goals He wants for each child. Afterwards I meet with each child privately. Together we pray and talk about what areas they would like to work on over the summer. For instance, if the child is a teenager and has been having a hard time in the area of the tongue, I may suggest they work on the scriptures, “Be kind to one another, or bear with one another patiently.” Instilling the virtues of kindness and patience would be their spiritual goal for the summer. If the child is in middle school, I may suggest that they run a mile daily and keep track of their times. This would be their physical goal for the summer. By improving their time and the daily commitment to their goal, they may even make the track team at school in the fall. If the child is a first grader I may suggest that they read a book every week. This would be their mental goal. Together we agree upon the goals. Finally, I have them write their personal goals in the notebook under summer goals. Each child is required to select three goals: physical, mental and spiritual. In my effort to teach responsibility, I never nag them about attaining their goal. This is between them and God. Aiming for a goal in these three areas teaches them not only responsibility, but also commitment.
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The next section of my notebook is titled “Family Goals.” In order to decide on the goals for the family we call a family meeting and at this family forum all ideas are thrown on the table. Every idea is considered. After all the ideas are collected we make a family decision. These become our summer goals for the family. The family goals and the personal goals change every year. This is an example of our family goals one year:
- Monday is work day. We all clean house together.
- We will serve outside the home as a family once a week.
- We will exercise daily.
- We will read daily.
- We will attend Mass once per week as a family.
- We will go to confession once a month as a family.
- Once a week we concentrate on one room in the house to clean thoroughly and organize.
- Friday is Fun Day. We choose an activity that we all enjoy.
Fun Day ideas are then discussed in the same manner as family goals. We make a new list each summer. Each week we choose a Fun Day from our list. Here is a sample list:
- Visit the zoo
- Go to a theme park
- Visit a museum
- Rent DVDs
- Visit Grandma
- Go to the beach
- Play miniature golf
- Go bowling
- Rent a Jet ski
- Go go-karting
- Do rock climbing
- Go to a park
- Go out for lunch
- Go to playground
- Have lunch at a restaurant that has activities for children
- Go to the YMCA
- Visit the library
- Have pizza party with friends
- Buy an inexpensive toy
- Do some family water games in the yard—(e.g. water balloon fights)
The third part of my notebook is titled, “Family Projects.” After brainstorming together as a family we make a list of projects to accomplish over the summer. These projects can be as simple as cleaning a closet or as big as painting a room. When we brainstorm together we always include some spiritual projects as well. One year we invited our parish priest to a dinner which was prepared by the entire family. Maybe you could bring a meal to a widow in the neighborhood. How about planting a garden together, or weeding the yard together? I find in life that the first step to getting something successfully accomplished is to make a list. Mom, dream big! Many hands make light work!
I title the fourth section of my notebook, “Things to do.” These are our family’s favorite activities to do in the summer. They are what summer memories are made of and are a way of building family.
Here are some examples:
- Every summer I would have a party for our Godchildren. The Godchild Party would include pizza and a movie. I would buy each child a present and spend quality time with them and with my children.
- A sleep-over for friends is a must do summer activity.
- Have daily prayer time together as a family.
- Visit Grandma and grandpa.
- Buy school supplies for next year.
- Go to Eucharistic Adoration as a family.
- Take a family vacation.
The last section of the notebook is titled, “Prayer Requests.” In this section we write down our daily prayer requests and then we pray as a family. It is important to let every family member voice their prayer requests to the Lord. Jesus loves the little children and He answers their prayers. You see, God cares about finding a lost dog as much as He cares about finding a job. This is a way of passing our faith down to the next generation. To quote a priest I heard, “The family that prayers together stays together.”
I have traveled down the road of summertime with seven children many years. Faithfully using a notebook in this way is one idea that I have found to be successful in forming my children. Yes, a lot of planning and preparation, along with a lot of love, will result in a wonderful summer. The most essential thing needed for a sane summer is a sense of humor. I would not begin summer without it.
Mom, don’t let summertime overwhelm you; lighten up instead! As you care for these blessings from God, kick off your shoes and learn to enjoy the sunshine. Laughter can work like a medicine even if it rains on the day you chose to go to the beach. Learn to be creative and flexible. As you see the thunder clouds begin to form, change your fun day plan to having an indoor picnic. Don’t forget to smile because God loves you, and He loves your children too!
So Mom, this is your mission if you decide to take it. The rewards are great. I can promise you this, not only will your children grow in character and virtue but also you will grow in character and virtue. Your home will become better ordered and more peaceful. Best of all, Mom, you and your children will have made memories that will last a lifetime. So, turn off the television, the game box, cell phones, and the computer. Roll up your sleeves and get out your five-subject notebook. Remember, we are in a race! We are racing heavenward. We want to know God, to love God, and to serve God, and to teach our children to do the same. We want to teach our children how to live our Catholic Faith. Hopefully, we are all racing toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus. We all want to be happy with Him one day in heaven. So run the race to win!
Moms, are you ready? Get ready, set, now go! Let the summer begin! Bring on the children!
Copyright 2016 Ellen Mongan
About the Author
Ellen Mongan, a Catholic writer and speaker, has been married more than 40 years to Deacon Pat Mongan. They have 7 children and 12 grandchildren. Ellen is a host of WOW Radio Podcasts, a religious columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, and has spoken on both radio and television. She is the founder of Sisters in Christ, Little Pink Dress Ministry, and Women-Fests.