As things ease up for many, pandemic wise, are you longing for some idyllic summer days? At the best of times, summers can be times of high expectations, which can result in stress and frustration. We want you to have as joyous and relaxing a summer as possible. To help you out, here are 5 proven summer sanity savers from the Great Parenting Simplified coaching team! (Written by Jacqueline Green).
Some of these ideas will be especially helpful to you if you are juggling work and kids at home. All of these ideas can be applied to other holidays or times of year. We’d love to hear what you’d add to the list, or to hear how it goes for you if you apply some of these tips with your family!
- Manage your expectations
One of the biggest things we all can do to have a happier family is to look at what expectations we can drop or lower. This is one of my most popular tips, as most of us start off parenting with WAY too high expectations. The result is burnout, discouragement and even depression and anxiety.
If you think back on your best summer moments from your childhood, do you find that often they were on days/during times where you didn’t have many expectations or a lot of plans? There’s something about the freedom of summer, with less routines and structure that creates an environment where magic can happen. For me, some of those moments included building card houses at my grandparents, because they had very few games and there weren’t kids to play with, or riding my horse for hours when I was at home on the farm.
Did you know that play is a child’s work?
Children need to play in order to mature and become their best, authentic selves. One of the many ways society has changed for the worse, in terms of parenting especially, is how we’ve turned so much play into work. For example, sports used to be done more for the fun of playing, versus as a competition with an emphasis on winning. (Being playful is a powerful parenting tool as well! Read this post by one of our senior coaches, Michelle Brussel The Power of Playful Parenting. I will do another post soon on the science behind what play does for our children developmentally.)
True play doesn’t have an agenda, and is not imposed on or planned for by others. Instead of feeling that we have to curate an idyllic summer full of precious moments, you and your child can benefit immensely from you allowing him or her to have more down time, where the agenda is self directed. Put some rules in place for overall structure, such as limits on technology use (see number 3). If you have someone looking after your children, make it clear that you want your child to have a chance to generate ideas on his or her own, rather than them feeling they have to be the play director.
I would also encourage you to see what you can do to stay present as much as possible. The thought of how few summers you have with your children will only drive anxiety. From that place, you are less able to think and seize the day, whatever it looks like.
- Brainstorm what you each want to do
Summer can be a great time for getting into longer projects that you don’t have time to do during the year, or to go places that you can’t during the winter. Let your children have fun brainstorming what an ideal summer would look like for them. The very exercise will open up their imagination, and can result in ideas that may germinate over the years.
After you’ve each brainstormed your list, get together and go over the list. Find one activity from each person’s list that you can commit to doing. Remember that you get a veto, as the person who has to bankroll the family choices, as well as to work out other logistics!
If your child has items on the list that don’t seem feasible, now or even ever, tell them that you look forward to seeing how that could work out sometime! That way you give your child the message that her desire is not only fine, but that it may be possible. Sometimes kids will find ways to make the impossible, possible, so you don’t want to kill the dream! You can also tell them that you’ll revisit the idea next year.
- Discuss technology limits
Technology can get in the way of you and your children having your best summer. One of the key ways of keeping that from happening is for you to discuss technology use with your children. We all do better with limits that we help to create.
If you were able to do the brainstorming with your children, they may have tapped into some projects that they’d like to do with their free time. See if you can get them to think about what structure could serve them to help them to find time to work on …
If you have hobbies you’d like to find time to do this summer, that may help your children, in part by inspiring them! It can be a lot of fun to put on some music and paint together, or go bird watching, or insect gathering.
- Enlist help
Parenting pushed me to grow my leadership skills, including my ability to build community. To be honest, I sucked at it prior to having kids. My default was to do things on my own, or to go without, rather than asking friends. Are you feeling like you could collapse from the weight of the ongoing demands of parenting through the pandemic and beyond? Perhaps it’s time for you too to stretch and learn how to enlist more support so that you can keep your cool, and your sanity?
This can look like finding an older child to watch out for your kids while you are in another part of the house. You may find someone who will happily work for free, because of wanting the experience in order to get hired as a baby sitter. Or you may be able to pay a reduced rate because you are still in the house.
As well, often times an underutilized resource is asking our co-parent to help more, or our extended family, now that we are more able to go there again. In both cases, this can mean lowering our standards, and being willing to let our children be cared for in a way that isn’t exactly what we’d normally choose. The benefits though for us in terms of increased ability to parent the way we want to when we are with our kids, is huge. That’s a big win for our kids too.
The research is clear and compelling. When moms are stressed out, parenting outcomes are poorer. So how could you lean on, or grow your village of support in order to reduce your stress and give yourself some alone time or the self-care that you need? It may take some work to get something set up, with benefits that can last a lifetime.
- Balance structure and freedom
It’s so life giving to have our schedules open up over holidays, isn’t it? What I’ve found is often there is a sweet spot in between freedom to do whatever we want, and some structure.
For many of us, having a basic morning routine is a game changer. You don’t need to have much planned, and a few key habits can make all of the difference. For example, some exercise first thing is often a significant mood elevator. Maybe that looks like slipping out for a walk before the kids even get up. Or perhaps morning yoga with the kids doing their version of downward dog alongside you?
Discuss with your kids what they want their morning routine to look like. You may want them to make their beds or do a few other basic tasks first thing. It helps to remember as you start to implement your morning routines, that change is a process! It may take awhile for you and/or the kids to get in the habit of doing your morning tasks. Remember it helps a ton if you can bring a growth mindset to the job, for example by asking yourself, Can I do this, and if so, how?
One final note about the balance between structure and freedom. It can be helpful to have a jar where you and your child/children write ideas for what to do when you are bored. This Boredom Buster can be a godsend, especially if your children helped to write the ideas in the first place!
Share what has worked for you in the summer or which of these tips you want to try in our comments! We’d love to hear your ideas of how you’ve approached some of the issues that summer brings or what you’d like to try!
Jacqueline Green, founder of Great Parenting Simplified Nonprofit Cooperative.