Parenting kids of different ages is hard.
I have five children ages 7 to 17 that all like to do different things because they’re different people at different stages of development. That makes finding family activities everyone likes to do hard (read: frustrating, migraine-inducing, ridiculous). The dilemma is an old one for families, especially large families.
What’s a mom to do? I’m not sure what’s right for every family, but these five ways to keep siblings connected in the summer have helped me not only stop frustrations (for the most part), but have helped me let go of the ideal that my children will be thrilled to do “just anything,” as long as we’re together.
Don’t Be Afraid to Divide and Conquer
Eventually, we all have to accept the reality that we can’t do everything together as a family in the summer. It’s not realistic. But it’s okay to realize that sometimes you will take the little kids to do little kid things and big kids to do big kid things. This gives the little kids something to look forward to and reminds the older kids about all the fun memories you shared with them in the past. (You know, from when they used to want to run to the store with you versus now when they hope and pray you won’t speak to them in public).
I have also found that older kids appreciate it when you trust them to stay home alone. It’s a good exercise in responsibility and can deepen your relationship (two parenting milestones achieved with one simple act!).
Be Sure to Take Turns
One of the benefits of having a large family is that your children have plenty of opportunities to learn patience, good manners, and the importance of waiting for their turn. In my family, if we are going out for a family night, we will often take turns letting the kids choose the activity. Sure, not everyone is going to like every activity, but when it’s finally your turn, it means more because you’ve been waiting for it. This also gives younger kids a little needed power and say in the family.
Allow Your Kids to Teach, Not Just Be Taught
Parents should keep in mind that not all the teaching and instruction is up to us. Taking the time to have each sibling teach the others can take the pressure off you, provide important bonding moments, and help your kids build common interests. It doesn’t have to be something profound. It could be something as simple as sharing a musical instrument, a new card game or video game, a Lego building tutorial, or a new band.
For instance, my oldest son loves to share info about the vinyl records he’s collecting. My youngest loves to play this horrible game, Hullaballo, but she makes it so ridiculous when she just dances around the house that we can’t help but join in.
Never Underestimate the Power of Food
Food brings everyone together. Never underestimate its power. No matter the age, getting a meal or a treat, or making and eating delicious food brings everyone together.
Sometimes kids need a chance to be quiet, calm down, and just be together—and food facilitates all of that. Don’t underestimate a trip to get ice cream when everyone needs a break. Enjoying food together has the power to heal, build, and strengthen family ties.
Establish Simple and Unique Traditions
Traditions give your kids a sense of unity and belonging. They also give your kids a collective childhood memory base. Sure, the younger kids might remember different years than the older kids, but they’ll all remember the same traditions.
For example, in our family, library day is on Wednesday, the Fourth of July is when we go to the parade together, and anytime my husband and I lip sync, my kids pretend to hate it.
Whatever your traditions, do them, and keep doing them regularly. But make sure they are things that are tailor-made for your kids. Years ago I tried to force my family to go bike riding together because that’s what I did with my family growing up. My kids quickly rejected that one. That experience taught me you can’t force it. You just need to embrace what your family really, sincerely likes to do, and then do it. Because no matter what it is you decide to do, if you do it together you’ll build meaningful memories.
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As moms, we improvise. We get along. We make things work. And we make a lot of things up as we go along because, let’s face it, no manual is ever going to cover all the bases a real mom needs to touch. But if laughter and perspective and a renewed energy to face the day are what you’re after—if you too are a “real mom”—this is the book for you!