How Adopting Changed Summer

I remember summer.

My sister, Laura, and I would wake up to the sun shining on the wood floor of the bedroom.  We spent the mornings playing in our backyard or riding bikes up and down the block with the neighbor kids.

Our mom took us to the library once a week where we checked out tall stacks of books we plowed through with diligence and delight.  Many afternoons were spent swimming at Chism Beach while our mom studied for graduate classes under a shady tree.

When I became a mother, I wanted summer days to be relaxed and fun.

With a larger family, there was more work to be done; my children had significant chores, and yard work to do, but there was still plenty of time for play.  Stacks of books to read, afternoons at the local pool, and sleeping out in the yard were foundations to our days.

After we adopted our kids, summer changed.

By May, my desk would be stacked with lists of activities, charts for chores, camp registration forms, and appointment reminders.  One summer, as I worked on plans for the kids, I recognized how differently I approached it as the mother of children from “hard places.”

When we adopted our children, I thought they would fold themselves into the life we were living, but their needs required us to dramatically change the way we live, which included how we planned our summers.

Summer days no longer flowed with ease, they required structure and extensive planning.

A chart hung on the refrigerator reminding even my older children to brush their teeth, make their beds, do chores, and so on. Basic hygiene was an ongoing challenge for one of my kids and it wasn’t enough to say, “Go brush your teeth,” it needed to be checked off on a list.

Our mornings were geared toward preparing to spend the afternoon at the pool.  When all chores and basic tasks were done, thirty minutes of reading was required, dinner prepped, and lunch prepared.  We headed out the door to the pool in the early afternoon where the kids spend the afternoon swimming with friends.

For my son with sensory processing disorder, the pool was magical.  The stimulation of the water, plus movement and activity, were (and continue to be) therapeutic for him.  It was also perfect for my daughter who found unstructured time at home to be very challenging.

Camp was also a new development for our family. Before adopting, given the choice between spending money to send the kids to camp or take a family vacation, we opted to stick together. Carefully planned road trips, with hours spent listening to Adventures in Odyssey as the miles ticked past, were highlights of our summers.

We cautiously embraced camp for Kalkidan who already needed regular respite. Camp provided her with a break from family life, which she found so challenging, and gave the other children a break from the intensity of her needs.  She was very happy in a camp setting with high structure and loads of activities.

The other children breathed more easily and enjoyed more time and attention from Russ and me.

I miss the lazier days of summer when some of the kids would play outside while others tucked away with books, when friends came over and ran in the sprinkler and popsicles were handed out in the late afternoon.

That is not my life anymore and if I fool myself into thinking I can slip back into that mode of parenting, it will not go well.

I’ve got tools and resources to help me be the mom I need to be for my children.  If we are going to be successful, I have to work hard, very hard, to plan a summer that brings happiness to all of my children.

It will not look like the summers we used to have, and I honestly still grieve that, but it can still be a great summer with many fun days and lots of great memories made.

We can do this, friends. Summer is nearly here and while it is tempting to try to roll with it, I’m digging in and making plans for my guys.

Tell me, how have your summers changed? What works for your family?

with hope and courage,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. vivienne
    June 12, 2018

    my guys did great for 2 years as far as entertaining themselves during free time and then one of them stopped being able to handle free time and now her sister has joined that force as well. I had the one that has the hardest time filling her time help me make a master list of things to do, fun, chores, helping others, and educational things. then I can just choose things from the lists the night before and make a list for what everyone has to do the next day. we also have done camps. i have grieved the change in summer as well.

    1. Susan
      June 12, 2018

      Routines for summer are life savers in our household. Basic housework, nature walks, gardening, and predictable fun. When younger we did theme weeks, trying to balance everyones need to rest and refresh. I still plan on one or two transition weeks when school ends and starts.

      1. Lisa Qualls
        June 12, 2018

        Such good advice, Susan, because routines reduce anxiety for kids who have experienced trauma. Thank you for sharing. I love the idea of theme weeks!

    2. Lisa Qualls
      June 12, 2018

      I really understand the grief, Vivienne. Good job sharing influence with your daughter by having her help create the list of activities.

  2. Teresa
    June 13, 2018

    Thank you Lisa for this truly encouraging post. Almost daily or most afternoon’s I load bikes, snacks or packed lunches and books to read and my two boys, ages 9 and 6 and we head to bike trails, parks, wading creek areas etc. to ride, walk, eat, amazing boy play and read aloud time. I love these afternoons as the boys are so precious and can bring me to tears in these settings how they can play like”typical” boys for hours and get along like the sweetest brothers! But, the guilt, frustrations come into my mind when I think of ALL the household things that are not getting done, the questions running through my mind of why is it too hard for me to stay at home all afternoon?! I can think it’s me or I can’t give them enough to do or I should be with them every minute to keep the fighting from starting etc my mind just goes all over. They are super creative boys, we do not do screens of any kind (too much obsession over them so we just don’t go there) crafts, reading, outdoor boy play….. They can and do all this at home but too often ends in battles and just ugly. Taking them away seems to alleviate all of that. I tell myself this is what I need to do for them to help keep regulated and get exercise and build that sweet bonds that are forming. Also, it is super good for me as I love walking and seeing them in this setting is sooooo good for my emotional and mental state!💕Just hard to not feel like we are “running” all the time instead of having those super lazy summer days at home! Thanks again for helping me to feel like this is “normal”!! Just a new normal. We have 5 children, 3 young adults bio children and our two precious boys added to our family by adoption. ❤️Changed our lives forever…..hard hard days…with some really special days in between……I am forever grateful to be their mom💕

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 13, 2018

      Teresa, this is such a thoughtful, beautiful comment, it could be a post of its own. I love the way you’ve figured out what your boys need and you’re diving in. It sounds like overall, the afternoons are very good and you’re doing all the right things. A couple things come to mind, if you have friends who might help, or if you can afford to hire someone, there are a few things you might be able to take off your plate this summer: errands, cleaning, even weeding/gardening. Teens are often looking for work and would be able to do any of these tasks. Perhaps if you knew you weren’t getting further behind on your responsibilities at home, you would be able to embrace the summer more.

      Also, I want to encourage you it will likely not always be this way. They will mature, build more attachment, and hopefully become more regulated. You know this from having raised kids already – but sometimes I need a reminder!

  3. Sarah
    June 14, 2018

    This is going to sound odd because I am Jewish through and through; always was; always will be; but your blog is giving me necessary strength right now. I am going through some difficult times that would turn me “off” God if I let them. However, as I read back through the years on your blog, everything you’ve gone through, and the faith you’ve managed to keep, I am reminded that God holds me and has a plan for my life; He has planned and handled much bigger things before, and i can rest and relax. So thank you.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 15, 2018

      Sarah, so good to hear from you. It fills my heart with joy to know my words help you. God is worthy of our trust, and if we let him, he will comfort and guide us. Many blessings to you.

  4. Tori
    June 16, 2018

    A very similar post could be written called “How Autism Changed Summer”. While he is not from a hard place, our seven year old autistic son experiences many of the struggles you name. God has graciously developed in me the tolerance for my structure over the last several years. I love long, lazy, planless days but as my son has grown those sort of days are a recipe for frustration and raging. As much as I dislike it, we need to give him a detailed plan of each day. It doesn’t fix everything but it can mitigate a lot of stress and frustration. May we find fruit in dying to our preferences!

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 18, 2018

      So true, Tori. Kids with all kinds of special needs respond to higher structure and many moms are facing summer just like we are! Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Linn Woodard
    May 28, 2020

    Oh my gosh! I thought I was the only one. I used to LOVE summer vacation when it actually felt like a vacation, for my while childhood and my first 8 years of parenting. I haven’t enjoyed a summer since then (7 years ago) since we brought our foster (now adopted) kids into our home. This summer is especially hard, being twice as long from school cancellation and lots of camps we usually rely on not being held. We barely made it through 10-12 weeks every year, and now we’re in the middle of five months of it, at least. I mostly feel bad for my biological kids to whom I try to give the gift of a pleasant summer, but mostly fail. 🙁

    1. Lisa Qualls
      June 5, 2020

      I hear you, Linn. This year in particular is requiring creativity and endurance!


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