The Summer "Vacation" Nobody Talks About
By Kristal Clark
I will never forget the day I first felt like the worst mom ever. Sure, I’d felt plenty of mom guilt over the years, but this was the first time I had felt this horrible. My kids all came bounding down the bus stairs, bundles of pure excitement….”Mommy….School is over…IT’S SUMMER!!!!!” Their adorable giggles and squeals of excitement were quickly overshadowed by what was happening inside my body….an overwhelming, all-consuming feeling of dread, instantly followed by intense guilt. I was not excited about spending the summer with my kids, and that was not OK.
Everyone always talks about the joys of summer….the family trips, the days in the sun, the late nights playing under the stars. Summers are filled with playdates and summer camp and days at the lake.
These are the summers that everyone talks about, but they were not my reality. My summers looked more like meltdowns and scheduling conflicts and unpredictability. They were filled with lost water bottles, ice packs, and $10 bottles of sunblock. My kids were perpetually unpleasable and someone was always crying. Every fiber of my being wanted to embrace this time with my babies and roll with it, but each night I went to bed exhausted and each morning I woke up grateful that we were one day closer to school starting back up.
I felt like I must love my kids less than the other parents….the ones who excitedly spent the summer with their kids. That wasn’t it at all, though. My kids are not “go with the flow”, “let’s go on an adventure” and “everything is fine as long as we have popsicles” kids. My kids rely on routine, structure, and predictability. They need to know what to expect and, if they don’t, meltdowns take over. They need the predictability of the school day that even the best summer camp cannot provide. For them, summer vacation is an exciting concept, but an anxiety-inducing reality. I could not enjoy them because anxiety does not produce enjoyable behaviors.
As they have gotten older, summers have gotten less stressful and we have found some of that summer joy. If you dread summers the way that I did, there are some ways to make them easier for you and your kids:
Create a schedule- Creating a schedule that the kids can rely on will greatly reduce meltdowns and will provide a sense of predictability for them. I always wrote it on a white board and read it to them every morning. It doesn’t have to be fancy or overly detailed. We scheduled in wake-up time, eating times, transitional times, relaxing times, and bed time. Giving a 5 minute warning before transitions allows them to prepare.
Keep it Simple- Summers got easier for me when I stopped trying to compete with the June Cleavers of the neighborhood. You don’t have to have huge craft projects and organized swimming lessons. Give them some finger paint, organize a scavenger hunt, go for a walk, or play in the sprinkler. These are all things that kids love and that don’t require a lot of work from parents.
Give yourself a break- It’s OK if you don’t love every minute of your summer with your kids. Sometimes they are not enjoyable. You are still a good parent and you still love your kids. End each day talking about the best parts of it. Even the worst days have some high points.
Try to stick to bed time- You need your kids to go to bed so you can have some parent time. Also, overtired kids are grumpy kids. Well-rested kids will be happier.
Summer isn’t always the joy and excitement we envision. When it isn’t, know that it is OK, you’re still a good parent, and school will start again soon!