When school ended a few weeks ago, I knew this summer would be a little different in our household.
No. 1: My son turns 2 soon, and he apparently received his instruction packet on “How to Live Up To the Terrible Twos Stereotype” right on time. His favorite pastimes include running away from me, eating frozen pops on the furniture and throwing arch-the-back-style fits on every outing.
No. 2: I’m on a book deadline. Revisions on my debut young adult novel (more details soon!) are due to my editor at the end of June. That means I’m spending every second of free time, nap time, TV time and bedtime glued to my computer screen.
So in summary: We can’t go on a million summer outings like normal because I’m working, and even when we do, the toddler makes it his mission to ruin it.
The result? Mom summer guilt.
Even though we’re only two weeks in, the guilt has already led to one breakdown by the swimming pool wherein I told my husband through tears that I’m letting everyone down and it’s going to be the worst summer ever, a fact that will inevitably ruin our children’s love of summer and maybe life in general. (I’m not dramatic. You’re dramatic!)
My husband handed me the car keys and said, “Go home. The kids are fine — the kids are kids. The only thing that will ruin their summer is your insanely high expectations.”
He was, of course, correct. As I drove away from the pool, I thought about some of the ways I needed to adjust my sky-high expectations before I let mommy guilt take away my summer.
• Kids don’t need constant planned activities. Some of my kids' favorite times are running through sprinklers in the backyard for hours or making up games with neighbor kids. I fall victim to the “planned fun” myth time and time again. I believe I need to plan a massive outing to a fun destination for my kids to enjoy their summer.
But when I just turn on a sprinkler or slather them in sunscreen and say, “Go play,” everyone has fun that’s free of cost and free of impossible expectations. The occasional outing is great, but let’s face it, the summer is long and no one can sustain a constant flow of well-planned excursions.
• Momma doesn’t make three meals a day. Seriously, why do kids need to eat so much? And I can’t keep up. So, we’ve struck a compromise in our house. The kids are responsible for their own breakfast, and I take care of dinner. As for lunch, we split it. My 11-year-old is entirely capable of preparing sandwiches for everyone, and I think pitching in to help feed everyone is a great way for her to learn. It’s my summer, too.
When my children were younger, I used to go overboard, planning themed weeks and Pinterest-worthy crafts and activities for the whole summer. I usually forgot to include anything I wanted to do on the list. Summer is my time to rejuvenate and reboot, too. And this summer, it’s also my time to get work done on a lifelong dream, and that’s OK, too.
• Relish the small moments. Instead of getting so caught up in planning to make memories, I find the best memories with my children come in the spontaneous moments. An impromptu game of tetherball, an afternoon of sidewalk chalk or an unexpected hunt for ladybugs while weeding. When these moments come, embrace them. Be present.
Summer guilt is real for me and for a lot of moms. We want our children to look back on their summer days fondly, but when we push ourselves (and our kids) to have the best summer ever, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. And then instead of nostalgia, our kids remember a stressed-out momma who took them a lot of cool places but never enjoyed the moment
So I’m letting go — of the ideals and of the guilt —and trying to just let summer happen.