“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy,” or so Gershwin wrote. While there are plenty of moms out there who are anxious about the ten week break from school and scheduled life, I know there are other mothers who, like me, are excited for the slower pace and freedom that summer allows our families. This summer will be the first one I have had to work outside of the home in about nine years. While that change in our life has been quite an adjustment, we love our full lives and learning from them, so I am even looking forward to this new summer structure for us.
A friend recently recommended I read this book. I was immediately intrigued by the book title; I’ve been on a journey of mindfulness and happiness for the past four years. I want my children to be happy, too, and I had not known there was a culture all about this exact thing. In my opinion, Acosta and Hutchison do an excellent job sharing their experiences and collecting stories from other parents about how they raise their children to be happy.
I found myself exclaiming repeatedly, “I think I may actually be Dutch!” as I read every chapter.
While the book does not have any specific, applicable ideas for activities to make your kids happy over the summer, and there are definitely some relevant cultural challenges we will face by living here in the U.S. instead of Holland, I found myself exclaiming repeatedly, “I think I may actually be Dutch!” as I read every chapter. Here are five ways I plan to intentionally love summer with my children.
1. Decide to Be Happy
The very first step is that you yourself must decide to be happy. Happy parents tend to raise happy children, because they are the role models. The Dutch have their entire cultural paradigm centered around being happy as the value that they measure every single priority against. They have systems in place that allow for work-life balance; many work part-time hours (four days or less per week) so that they have time to pursue hobbies and interests for themselves and with their children. While this schedule may not be a possibility for your family, this summer or ever, choosing to be happy and making choices based on how you can be happiest is a great first step and something anyone can do right where they are.
2. Rest and Regularity
Our family sits down and makes a giant “wish list” of all of the many things we each want to do over the summer break. We write down every single idea–no holding back or censoring ideas as we brainstorm. This allows each person to contribute and to create ownership over his and her schedule and our schedule as a family. I can then take a look at our calendar and budget, and fit in as many things from the list as I feel fits within the measurement to have a happy summer. This means I also intentionally schedule in rest time and routines.
I have seen many daily to-do lists and chore lists going around the internet these days to help moms with expectations of their children before they can use their electronics or go do something fun. For our family, we do our best to create routines that honor “work hard, play hard” (the Dutch see both as equally valuable) instead of “get all your work done before you can play.” Also, by creating our schedule together so that it includes our routines and our wishes, we show that we value our children’s input and independence. We find that we are happiest when we are not managing our children’s lives.
3. Ride Your Bike
The Dutch cycle as their main source of transportation, from infancy in seats through childhood and on to adulthood. While our neighborhoods and our schedules may not allow for this change to how we get around town, there are many bike trails in the Iowa City area. Here you can see the best bike trails in Iowa. Remember to learn about bike safety. Whether or not you choose to cycle, at least get outside! You can go out into your yard, visit great parks, garden, or even nap in the shade, to name a few. Making time to be outside and connect with nature is a great way to be happier.
4. Make Your Table a Safe Space
A few years ago, I read another book (another intriguing title) that discussed in one chapter how children play with words and language the way they play with everything else, through testing and experimentation. At this same time, my own children were saying words and phrases that I did not like and I knew if they said them at school or in public, there would be major social consequences. Rather than punish the use of those words or deny their exploration, I followed the book’s advice.
I created “safe spaces” in our home–the bathroom (because it was easy to remember “potty language stays near the potty”) and our kitchen table (because we value open and honest communication within our family). I told the children they can say anything and everything, as loudly as they want, or ask any question or bring up any topic they want to know more about, in these places with no fear of judgment or punishment. This helped us create open dialogue and trust so that when the really big important topics come up as they get older, they know they can come to us safely.
The Dutch see their role as parents as modeling adulthood for their children, and see their children as contributing members of their family and society.
It turns out, the Dutch place high value on their table and open discussions, too! They eat breakfast and dinner meals together as a family. At breakfast they talk about what each person has planned for the day and news that is happening, and at dinner they discuss how their days went. The Dutch see their role as parents as modeling adulthood for their children, and see their children as contributing members of their family and society. As your schedule allows, make family meal time around the table a priority in your daily routine to make your lives happier.
5. Commit to Being in Happy Companionship
The Dutch word for this concept is “gezelligheid,” which actually has no English translation. Basically, it means to be happy, to make decisions that make you happy, to create the environment in which you are happiest, with the people with whom you are happiest. It does not need to be expensive or for show. It is genuine. I truly believe our children want most to be in happy companionship with us, their parents–their most trusted adults and influences. When they are infants, they rely on us for confidence and predictability. As children, they test us to make sure we will stick with them. As adolescents, they need us to tell them the dangers of their choices because their brains haven’t developed that far to see the possible outcomes for themselves.
When we commit to being in happy companionship with our children, we make the intentional choice to be happy *with* them, by accepting who they are as individuals, not the children we wish they were or an idea of what a child should be. Does that mean outright permissiveness to their every whim and fancy? Absolutely not. Children need clear expectations and boundaries to learn how to thrive in society. But that does not mean they need authoritarian control either. The Dutch have the happiest children because they have found a balance in treating their children with the respect one would treat any other person.
Expect to love your summer with your children, and you will. Just like the Dutch!