Summers are hard on families when parents can't be there to take care of the kids, drive them to baseball practice or oversee play dates. For many summers, my mom agonized over leaving her five kids home while she went to work. Even though she didn't like it, we depended on her income.

However, she found ways to keep us busy and out of trouble. What worked for us may not work for all families, but here are a few techniques my mom used to maintain some control over her kids when she couldn't be there.

Leave one person in charge

Kids need structure. Leaving them home every day without one person in charge is a recipe for disaster. My older sister and I took turns being the main babysitter. While there were still fights and power struggles, it helped us keep track of one another. It was the main babysitter's job to give the younger kids permission to go to a friend's house and to stay home and monitor things until Mom got home.

Give everyone at least one chore

Every morning before she left, Mom would drag us all out of bed for family prayer. Then she would leave instructions on who should mow the lawn, how to clean out the game closet, etc. We tried our best to sleep through this, so she also left written instructions on the table so we couldn't claim innocence when she came home and found that our jobs weren't done. Each of us rotated the usual chores such as cleaning the bathroom and doing the dishes, but Mom added additional jobs when needed. This didn't always go smoothly, of course, but we all knew that if we wanted to do anything fun, we had to get the jobs done first.

Establish a "learning time"

Education was always important at my house. Once a week the older kids would conduct a learning hour for the younger kids. My brother loved science, so we usually did a science experiment involving water tornadoes made out of two-liter bottles or something similar. Just make sure the science experiments are safe before you let your kids loose.

We also rode our bikes to the library every Monday morning. This was a fun activity for two reasons. Kids were allowed to pick out any book they wanted, even if it was a Calvin and Hobbescomic book. And, we enjoyed a fun bike ride.

Be available by phone as much as possible

If possible, keep your cell phone with you at all times in case of emergencies. If you can't always be available, ask a neighbor or close friend if it would be OK if your kids called them if they run into problems. Your kids are most likely capable of handling minor crises on their own. But it will make them (and you) feel better if there's always an adult just a phone call away in case something comes up.

Leaving your kids home alone all summer is difficult, but it can be a good experience as long as you set clear expectations. What have you done to keep your kids in line while you're at work?

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