Have you ever noticed how much time, effort and planning goes into the summer’s activities, all for the sake of keeping our kids entertained? Like most parents, I am really excited for the end of the school year; to blow off steam, ditch the structure and routine, have fun and sleep in! But, also like most parents, I know this enthusiasm will dissipate by week two of summer break. And so, my journey to fill my kids' schedule for the summer begins.
It’s incredible! I found lists of suggested summer activities like “making your own summer camp,” or “train for a 5K as a family.” But the reality is, many of these suggestions just won’t work for me. As a single mom, I can’t take the entire summer off (nor do I want to)—and I certainly don't want to be the “Chief Counselor” for my household's summer camp. Somewhere in between researching camp and scheduling a week-long vacation at the beach, it hit me: filling my schedule with tons of children’s activities was not the answer. What our family really needed was a summer break schedule makeover!
Let’s face it, growing up in the 80s meant you were a “latchkey” kid. Parents considered it normal to leave their 8-year-old children home alone. In fact, I’m certain that for all the hours I spent home alone (vacuuming, folding laundry, dusting and doing various other chores assigned to me), my parents never once worried about the house burning down, or that I might eat the wrong food. In fact, my days were almost always rewarded with a swim in our above ground pool and the opportunity to devour non-organic popsicles until bedtime.
Can you imagine that routine today? Personally, I can't fathom leaving my 8- and 10-year-old home all day alone to fend for themselves. And if I did, I'm fairly certain they wouldn't fold the laundry or clean the house. In fact, the house would probably look like a bomb went off or actually would be burnt to the ground by noon. Perhaps that's my poor parenting or perhaps it's a complete shift in our society.
Somewhere along the way, we shifted from being a society where children were “along for the ride” to a society where children are now “driving the agenda.” Please, don't get me wrong, I love my children and would do absolutely anything for them, but what I’ve realized is that when I’ve followed what society expects, the only one who pays the price (pun intended) is me!
In summers past our schedules were crazy! I had my kids in multiple summer camps covering every activity from baking to soccer and swimming, never mind a summer vacation and letting them have sleep overs and movie nights, and the gaps would be filled in with random activities like pottery day and trips to the water park. There was zero downtime. And, as a result of this warp-speed lifestyle, I was 20lbs overweight, tired all the time, not happy in my relationship, dissatisfied with my work, and overall felt disconnected from who I was.
The reality is summer break traditionally means parents are looking at two months with a serious lack of focus on work and minimal opportunities for self-care.
UNTIL NOW! Why not give this summer schedule a makeover? One that shifts from being the parent our children want us to be, to the parent they NEED us to be.
Our kids covet what they see every day. I don’t want my children seeing me sacrifice myself for them. I don’t want them to learn that adults put others first (typically at the expense of your own mind, body and soul). What I do want, is my children to see that I take care of myself in order to take better care of them. Which is why I decided to flip the script: the new mantra in my house is: “If Mommy is happy, the kids are happy.”
So, instead of finding countless actives for our kids to do this summer, how about we look at what we can do as parents to manage ourselves during summer break.
Here are 6 ways to powerfully own your summer break (and beyond) while fulfilling your children’s needs and still having fun!
Your morning sets the tone for the entire day. The morning is an opportunity to start over and create a new version of yourself. It’s a sacred time to connect back into your authentic self. It’s a time to reflect and decide who you want to be today. For me, this looks like waking up an hour earlier than my children to meditate. My children know not to interrupt me if I’m sitting on my yoga mat with my eye mask and headphones on (unless it’s an emergency, of course). Other days it looks like a cup of coffee while sitting outside and writing. Either way, I take the time. Its scheduled and it’s not optional. If you commit to do this on a regular basis, you and your children will feel the benefits almost immediately.
Let's not forget that you are the parent. That means that you are the leader in your household. It's your responsibility to create the structure, allow for fun, set the pace, the tone, and to be the example for your children’s greatness. I would like you to consider adjusting your children's schedule, camps, play dates, etc. to your schedule, not the other way around. This will help your children understand that while you love them you also love yourself. Being a parent that loves themselves is the best gift that you can give your children. When we love ourselves, we have the capacity to love others. We also, are more likely to exude confidence and value ourselves. These are the qualities we should want our children to have. They are the qualities our world so desperately needs.
How many times have you heard "less is more?" I firmly believe that doing less during summer break is more. When I stopped trying to fill every moment of my children's' lives with an activity, I felt a huge sense of relief. I stopped trying to be like the other moms. I stopped trying to entertain my children and allowed them to be bored, which gave them an opportunity to create. I sent them outside, without me, to get dirty and explore.
Always doing things is a vicious cycle for you and your children. Instead of finding things to do, I encourage you to find ways to connect with each other. Find ways to help your children connect back to themselves. With constant external engagement this seems to be a lost art. Being bored is one of the best ways to connect back to our authentic selves and open up to our truest desires. Once you do that, follow what feels good and see what magic can be created.
This is a big one. Women are known for being amazing multi-taskers, myself included. With technology, it has become even easier for us to do 30 things at once. But, I want you to ask yourself why you're really doing these things? Is it because you can get more done and therefore feel more satisfied and accomplished? Is it because you haven't learned to say no when asked to help out in even the most minuscule way? Is it just because you've always done things that way? No matter what your answer is, we are all truly better off when we are in the present moment. When we are present, we have the opportunity to truly connect to the ones around us and experience life at its essence.
Our children need us to be present with them, too. They don't need us with our nose down in our phones while they're trying to talk to us. I'm sure you've experienced a time where your child has tried to get your attention and you're only half listening. The next thing you know, there's a full-on tantrum happening or even worse, your child just feels ignored and walks away. There's no greater time where this is exemplified than during summer break when we're trying to work and be with our children.
The solution is to compartmentalize your time so that you can be where your feet are without worrying about all the other things that you “should” be doing. That means getting better at scheduling. That means carving out time to just be with your children.
When my children were little, I used to call this “special mommy time.” I gave them each a half hour every day to do something that they wanted to do with me. I didn't have my phone (nor did they) and we did easy things like puzzles, or take a walk, or play basketball. Most of the time giving children undivided attention, even in a small dose, is enough to make them feel fulfilled and connected.
We hear a lot about self-care. It sounds cliché sometimes, but quite frankly I'm happy that it's become part of the mainstream dialogue. The reason being, if we don't take care of ourselves, we literally don't have the energy to take care of others. When we rely on other people to take care of our needs or ignore our needs all together, we're giving our power away. We are allowing other people and circumstances to determine our happiness. Often, we use this as an excuse to not step into our own power.
So, what is self-care really? Everyone's version of self-care looks different. I look at self-care as anything that puts me in a mindset of confidence and contentment. I feel most satisfied and empowered when I'm taking care of my body. Therefore, I make going to the gym or doing some sort of physical activity five days a week a priority. The result has allowed my children to watch me get strong and stay consistent. They now want to do the same and that’s a win-win in my book.
Have you seen the movie Yes Day with Jennifer Garner? Is this not the scariest thing ever? Can you even imagine saying yes to your children for an entire day? I can only imagine the chaos that would be created if we lived our life by saying yes to absolutely everything our children said they wanted to do. However, there is a great lesson in this movie and it's that our children are awesome little beings that want to have fun and be creative. They do get sick of the rules and structure that they have to follow all the time with very little control over their day-to-day decisions. It's certainly worth considering.
So how do we say yes to our kids and find balance in it? The answer is in really deciding what's important to hold the line with and what's not. As an example: I know that my house is going to be perpetually a mess and I'm OK with it now, but I wasn't always. I grew up in a house that had a room in it that was off limits. In that room there was a beautiful blue oriental rug and a white velvet couch that we were not allowed to touch, let alone sit on. As an adult, I never had the white couch room, but I used to have the house where everything had its place and messes were cleaned up immediately. Honestly that burden got to be too much. I decided that having fun with my children was more important than cleaning all weekend. I decided that my children having friends over was more important than having a white couch. So now, I don't worry about it because in the scheme of life it's not really that important to me.
Where can you start saying yes? Pay attention to all the things you say no to with your children and make note of where you can pull up the reins and relax a bit. Trust me, when you stop putting so much pressure on yourself to be perfect the yes’s feel amazing.
I now find my household to be somewhere in between latchkey and helicopter parenting, and it feels good. It's ever evolving, just like our family, and it works for us. I hope that you, too, will take this summer as an opportunity for a makeover and decide how you want your family to run. To step into your power as a parent: put yourself first and discover true connection with your children.
Trust me, they will thank you!
I would love to hear from you! Please connect with me on Instagram @msjuliemcmahon.