The last day of school is generally gleeful for most kids looking forward to the freedom and choices that summer vacation offers.
But not every kid is “most kids.”
Beyond the structure and supervision that school provides, it also offers hours of respite for children dealing with highly stressful situations at home.
As June rolls into July, most young families hustle to fill the hot summer days with day camps, family outings, and trips. This should not be underappreciated. It can take a tremendous amount of planning, juggling, negotiating, luck, and money to ensure kids are happily busy and well-supervised over the summer, particularly in those last two weeks of August when most childcare and camps are closed.
However, families coping with a crisis at home may not have the physical, emotional, and financial resources to do much of anything. The crisis could be family discord, serious illness, or even a major change that is not objectively negative like a move to a new city or the birth of a sibling. But stress is stress. And these are the kids who most desperately need some carefree fun, even if it’s just for a few hours.
Simply taking a couple of kids to the beach for the day requires planning what to wear, what to bring, how to get there, what to eat, and a budget for transport and food. Getting the kids in the car and driving them (if there is a car) is also no simple task. Especially if the parent is physically or emotionally not 100%.
Taking kids to an amusement or water park can seem unfathomably challenging physically and financially to a parent who is ill, exhausted, or both.
Affordable summer programs are available publicly and privately. For example, many schools offer a form of camp in the summer and some municipalities offer subsidized programming as well. But finding and organizing these activities often takes a great deal of research and time.
Not only is summer vacation not a relief for some kids, but it can be an added source of anxiety. For young families in crisis, the lack of structure and programming when school is out exacerbates the tension at home. That said, a little bit of fun can go a long way to alleviate stress.
These are the small kindnesses we can do to help when a young family close to us is struggling, particularly in the summer:
- Take the kids out for quick, inexpensive meals to get them out of the house, break up the day, and give the parents a breather
- Invite their kids along when you take your own kids out for a fun day
- Research, recommend, and then book (with permission) programs and activities for their children
- Have their kids hang out at your home and do a stress-free activity like cookie-making
- If you have older kids, enlist them as well. After all, teenagers are infinitely cooler to small children than grown-ups
I can’t express enough how much this helps. That day when my now-late husband Jeremy was diagnosed with stomach cancer, my home mutated from happy and energetic to fearful and tense. Managing his illness took what felt like 95% of our energy and budget. Our three kids were 6 months, 3, and 6 years old then, and Jeremy often said that the best way to care for him was to care for the kids. Instead of us plopping the kids in front of a screen for hours and hours, our friends and family picked them up most weekends for some normal family fun…without us…while we rested up for another challenging week.
After Jeremy died, we created Jeremy’s Circle for exactly this purpose. Jeremy’s Circle holds family fun days and teen events for young families coping with cancer or cancer loss throughout the year and more frequently over the summer. The parents, if they need a break, don’t have to come. The kids can let loose and enjoy the fun day out, away from the stress at home.
This July-August, we’re throwing five fun days — indoors, outdoors, and even one virtual — for Jeremy’s Circle kids. We take care of the planning, costs, snacks, drinks, and even transport when needed. Find details for the events with sign up forms at jeremyscircle.org.