When my kids were younger, the start of summer felt like try-outs for some “world’s best mom” competition. Facebook was filled with pictures of friend’s refrigerators covered in hand-lettered “Bucket Lists,” chore charts with fresh stickers, and the packing lists for the epic upcoming road trip. As a young mom who was still trying to figure the whole “I have kids now” thing, I felt like I was expected to be some sort of cruise director from June till September. By day four of summer break, I was exhausted and ready to move somewhere with year-round school. I felt like a failure every time my kids would turn on the TV or whine about having nothing to do. Now that my kids are a bit older and I have a few more summers under my belt, I’ve learned one or two (actually three!) ways to simplify summer and actually enjoy the break from our usual routine.
1. Let them be bored.
Somewhere along the way, the idea that we need to provide activities for our kids at all times took over, and we’ve been exhausted and irritated by the thought of summer break ever since. Simplify summer by realizing boredom is a gift to children. It provides the stillness and space they need in order to learn skills like self-regulation, creative problem solving, and motivation. Not giving them an answer or even a few options, when they say, “I’m bored and don’t know what to do,” forces them to figure it out on their own. This can be super challenging for our kiddos who are used to being told what to do and how to do it all day long. But when they are giving the task of filling in the blank themselves, it produces self-efficacy and a fresh confidence they are capable of finding a solution. They know what toys they have and where the crayons and paper are stored. They just need to be given the chance to exercise the muscle of personal drive. Trust me, their future employer will thank you for letting them be bored this summer!
2. Simplify summer by simplifying your spending.
Guess what, mom? You’re the boss. You know your kiddos and your bank account and your emotional capacity better than anyone else. So just because that other mom is taking her kids to four amusement parks this summer, doesn’t mean you have to. Sara-with-an-H might be posting pictures of her jam-packed-totally-organized summer calendar, and that’s awesome for her. Maybe her kids need that extra structure and maybe she worked extra hours all year so she could afford those camps. Let Sarah do Sarah and cheer her on. YOUR calendar can be as empty as your bank account AND THAT’S OK. Don’t get yourself into trouble trying to pay for all the extras these next few months have to offer. The stress of a tight budget will not add anything of lasting worth to your summer break. And hey, maybe you could turn it into a lesson on money for the kids!
3. Marie Kondo your brain.
One of the best tools you have in your “Surviving Summer” kit is your ability to think about what you’re thinking about. The power of mindfulness is not just some edgy graphic for a yoga poster. Paying attention to your thoughts really can have a huge impact on your mood and expectations. When you wake up in the morning, are you already overwhelmed by all the hypothetical things that could go wrong that day? Choose to simplify summer by watching your thoughts, and change your mind about the kind of day your going to have. Put a sticky note on your mirror that says something like, “You’re doing an awesome job, and today is going to be a good day.” It might sound cheesy, but the words we say to ourselves actually create pathways in our brain that become a track for our thoughts. If we’re plowing tracks of negativity and lack, those kinds of thoughts become comfortable and we camp out there without noticing. And we all know that if mom is having a rough morning, so is everyone else. Reminding yourself to speak words of life and hope into your day and over your family, will impact how you see yourself and begin to create new paths in your brain and your summer will be a bit brighter.