Carrying fresh towels out to the pool I caught my youngest in the midst of a precious moment. All eight years of him looked up, wide-eyed. Flexing outstretched, sinewy arms, he hollered, “Mama, look at my boat. It’s a real boat and it’s mine!”
I set the towels down on the picnic table, keeping my eyes on his thin lips, curled in a smile, every bit of him living out an inspired summertime adventure. It was all so stinkin’ beautiful! There he was, with his brilliant boy imagination, splashing around our pool at 9:56 in the morning on a perfect summer day! My heart swelled with pride as I watched his body strain under the pressure of paddling. Then up came his “spear” and he slayed the monstrous eel that swarmed ’round his boat. His face contorted and I knew it was all real.
And a tear pricked, because this boy fought tooth and nail just a few short days before. “It’s not fair! It’s summer! All of my friends play video games and watch cartoons as much as they want!” He invited me to fight him then, and I refused. “Sorry son, this isn’t a consequence, you didn’t do anything wrong, but you and your brothers aren’t playing video games and watching tv all day. It’s the choice your dad and I have made. You boys can do it every afternoon after you’ve played yourself into a happy stupor and rested with a book for a while, then you can have some screen time then. But, no, that’s not how our family does summer.”
That’s not how our family does summer.
He wanted to fight me then, but I refused to make it a fight. One of the main lessons I’ve learned in my career as “mom,” is that I don’t have to fight my children. Though they try to argue with me, I don’t have to engage in the argument. Because I’m in charge.
And you can be too, Mom.
I’m not suggesting a proud, unyielding, authoritarian sort of power, but a calm, collected, and kind sense of oneself. “Son, I’m not going to fight you. God gave you to me, and I’m here to help you make the best choices this summer. One day, when you head to college, you’ll have to make most of your choices without me… until that time, I’m here to help.”
I’ve said it enough times now that they know. They know I’m not going to fight them. I’ve dropped the rope, so to speak, and no child can play a game of tug-o-war when their opponent has dropped their end of the rope.
I refused to fight my children over summertime boundaries or summertime boredom!
I remember the forts of my youth, and the friends who met me deep within their leafy rooms. Some friends were real, others imaginary. I’d ride my pink bike with the white basket to Kerry’s house three blocks away. I don’t have one memory with her inside one of our air-conditioned homes until we were 12 and started sneaking stealth into her mother’s living room to watch her sordid soap operas. Life was lived outside in our youth, with change in our pockets in case we came across the jingling song of an ice-cream truck.
Then there was the “dump” down the street, where our local school discarded old desks, pieces of machinery, and the deflated red rubber balls I played handball with over the course of the previous school year. My neighbor Michael and I would squeeze through the chain linked fence and gather what we could for our summertime inventions. We’d throw cardboard boxes over the fence before squeezing back through and carrying our loot home to his house or mine.
It was a successful day, a memorable day, the day we made our first “Crap-Mobile.” Using blue painting tape and silver duct tape, yellow masking tape and clear scotch tape, we strapped boxes to our skateboards, decorated them with markers, and pushed one another down the middle of the street.
But the day I count even more a success, even more memorable, was the day my boys pushed through the discomfort of their boredom and constructed their own cardboard fun.
When we let our children work through the discomfort of not being entertained, they have a shot at brilliance.
Dear Mom, knee deep in summer, don’t give in! Let them to be bored a bit, for boredom breeds brilliance. You are a good and kind mom, stay calm and collected, you don’t need to engage them in battles over screentime or morning movies, or their whiny pleas for a trip to target for another toy. They don’t need toys today, they need your loving hand, opening the back door and giving them a gentle shove.
God did a good job when He made you their mom… find your authority there, and drop the rope. Go ahead and drop it… and let them be bored. I double-dog dare you!
If you’ve engaged in the battle and find yourself fighting your kids each long mothering day, (winter, spring, summer, or fall) I encourage you to grab a copy of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses. And sign up here for more conversations about dropping the rope and picking up grace!