Did someone say summer? Tips for families on navigating an uncertain season

JFCS FLE boy rides bike

By Leah Persky, PhD • JFCS Family Life Education Manager

It is next to impossible to plan much of anything when we are living in such uncertain times. Every day things change and we are forced to re-assess and practice going with the flow. What else can you do when you are living through a pandemic?  It was recently announced that Camp Teko and Herzl Camp, among others, will not be open this summer. Other camps have postponed start dates, leaving many grieving, upset and confused about how to move forward. Many families wait for the next round of closures to be announced.

While I am not originally from Minnesota, I know that most Minnesotans live for summer. However, things are going to look different this year. Yes, the sun will still be shining more, and the temperatures will rise, and kids will be out of school and off to camp, or will they?

Leah Persky

Like so many other people, I find myself wondering what summer will bring. If camp is cancelled, what will the kids do all day? How will parents get any work done if the kids are at home? If camp is open, do we want to send our kids? There are no clear answers here and it feels like we are all in a holding pattern. We edge closer to summer each day, with no sign that our lives will return to normal anytime in the near future.

We all need to embrace the idea that this summer will be different. Even if kids go to camp, it will look and feel different. It is so hard because many of our children wait months to go to camp, connect with friends and mentors, learn new things, and have so much fun. Jewish camp is especially unique because it provides a time for Jewish learning and instills a sense of pride, belonging and connection; something that many Jewish kids only get to experience at camp.

While we grapple with what to do and try to hold ourselves back from planning, we need to give ourselves permission to feel frustrated, angry, sad, anxious, or anything else we experience. One of the most important things we can do for ourselves and families is to be mindful of how we are feeling, work to bring acceptance to these feelings, and then try to let them go.

As the old adage goes, problems are meant to be solved. Living through a global pandemic is certainly riddled with all sorts of problems. By now, most of us have proven to ourselves that we are much stronger, more creative and resilient than we might have thought.  

Here are some things to keep in mind as you and your family grapple with the unknown decisions ahead and think about how to approach the almost-here summer:

Trust yourself. There is no one size fits all model. Each family has unique needs and situations. What are yours?  Write them down and discuss them with your partner or co-parent—what needs does each family member have? How can these needs be met at home or at camp?

Don’t second guess yourself. On the flipside, accept that things can and will change quickly. It may make sense to make a decision about early summer activities in the coming weeks and then re-assess later plans as time passes.

Make a game plan to support your decision. If no camp, what is the plan to meet the needs of kids and parents during the day? How will each person have the time they need to complete their work and self-care activities? Get creative here and think about what will set you up for success.

Make a plan for your interactions with other close family members, caregivers and friends. Will you see family members? Do you feel comfortable hiring a summer nanny? If so, how will you handle social distancing and staying healthy? Have these discussions to decide if people will meet in person and under what circumstances; rules and guidelines need to be set. These can be challenging discussions, but they set the ground work for keeping everyone healthy and comfortable in the coming months. For more on this, please see the following article: https://www.jfcsmpls.org/quarantine-quandary-for-grandparents-and-older-adults-wanting-to-help-but-stuck-social-distancing/

Have a family meeting to share decisions that have been made and bring everyone in. Of course parents will make the big decisions for school-aged children, but there are lots of smaller decisions to be made. Bringing everyone into the discussion will create a team atmosphere, create buy-in and also build some excitement as younger kids feel part of the decision-making process.

High-schoolers and college-aged children may be brought into the higher-level decisions as it makes sense for your family, the individual child and their maturity level. Older children who can grasp the costs and benefits of each situation may really help to make a decision and also make it so you can all live with that decision going forward.

At this meeting, you will also want to address that you may see friends and families with different summer plans. If camps run and you decide to keep your children home, explain that others may go to camp, but that each family has different needs. This will no doubt be hard for younger children to appreciate, but it is worth discussing up front to avoid further confusion or anger.

Plan some things to look forward to and be aware that plans may change. Maybe there is a project you all have been wanting to do; some movie watch parties to schedule, special new recipes to try, etc. This is the time to make little things as much fun and as exciting as possible.  And yes, I know you have heard this before, but a little reminder doesn’t hurt.

If kids are still asking why is everything cancelled, simply share the truth, including the uncertainty, in direct and concise language. You will want to assess what your child knows first by asking open-ended questions. Short responses with not a lot of details are best, especially for kids 10 and under. Emphasize all the ways your family and the larger community is working to keep you all healthy and safe.

Find the silver linings that are bound to show up in some unexpected ways. As challenging as this situation is, we can look for and appreciate continued good health and the joys, however fleeting they may be. Baking bread, planting a garden, daily walks, spring weather, dinners together (and breakfast and lunches too), these little things will stay with us for a long time to come.

The bottom line is that there will be many challenging decisions to make this summer and our most important priorities are to keep our families and ourselves as safe, healthy, and as supported as we can. We have made it this far and no doubt will be able to navigate the summer ahead with courage, kindness and compassion (for ourselves and others).