Despite the fact that we’re already through the first week of July, we’ve really only started our summer (and it’s going to be over far too soon).`However, in our few weeks of freedom I’ve learned (or relearned things I’d forgotten from last summer) a few things that have made this time so full to the brim with fun and joy.
Give them a plan. It doesn’t have to be a schedule with times allotted for specific activities, though, I will admit to doing this on occasion. It can be as simple as, “We’re planning on going to the lake today after lunch. What beach toys are you going to bring?” It helps for the kids to know what’s going to happen when, and for me, if it’s a particularly difficult day, there are landmarks throughout the day, which helps time pass just a bit more quickly.
Don’t force it. I really, really wanted to make fairy houses, but E. and M. just weren’t having it. They had other things they wanted to do, my wants be damned (which is kind of how it should be, at least when it comes to play). While I wanted to do this activity with them, I knew (from passed experience) if I forced it, then we would all be miserable. So I went off and built them by myself…for about five minutes. Then E. wandered over and started her own fairy “hotel”. M., not wanting to be left out, joined us moments later. I learned from that point on that if I had a specific activity in mind, it was almost better to just start doing it myself than to ever say anything to the kids. As most mothers know, as soon as we seem preoccupied with something by ourselves, the children will shortly follow.
Lead by example. We’ve tried to be fairly strict about screen time this summer, but this becomes very hard to enforce when your very clever children eagerly point out that you are not being screen free yourself. Away the phone and laptop go. The same tends to happen with healthy eating. I know my plate is far more balanced because E. and M. insist I have all the same servings of fruits and veg they’re having.
Try not to worry. This covers a lot of different areas, from not worrying too much about risky play, which is so beneficial to children, to trying not to worry if you’re doing “it” (whatever that is) “right” (however that’s supposed to go). I try, with and without success, to not worry so much about things when I’m with my children.
Watch and listen. The easiest thing about this summer has been my insistence to just sit back and observe E. and M. I try, without guilt, to not play with them, but just be present. And when I let myself be present, but not actively involved, I learn a lot about my children. I am seeing more of what makes them laugh and what sparks their imagination. I know more about how they solve issues between themselves and how I might help them navigate their relationship.
Take care of yourself. I think most parents are aware of this need, but don’t always do (and can’t always do it), but if you find there is a way, however small, for you to take care of yourself, then do it. Please. I struggle with anxiety and depression, so I place a high value on finding opportunities to make sure I’m feeling good and to also be gentle with myself. For example, I tend to go through “low” periods, where my energy is significantly depleted and I just don’t feel good. In addition making sure I’m eating well and staying hydrated, I also make sure that I remind myself this is okay and plan activities (or a lack thereof) around this.
Whether you’re a stay at home parent or a parent off on vacation for one week or eight, these are all things that are important to keep in mind (and are likely things you already do!). While no life is perfect or easy, being attentive to your children and yourself in a number of ways certainly makes things better.