I’m jealous, mama, of the way you seem to have it all together! Have you ever caught yourself thinking this way about your friends or acquaintances?! I do it all the time. I am that mom watching other moms with envy, wishing I could “mom” as easily as them.
When summer break started for my two littles, ages 5 and 10, I could feel the familiar emotions welling up inside me. It’s hard to put a finger on what the emotion is exactly. I am so happy to have my little ones home with me, to not have to get up early every morning with someplace we NEED to be by a certain time, to avoid the early morning battles of getting dressed or late night shuffle of getting homework done and teeth brushed. On the other hand, I am terrified, as I think about the previous summers when I have left the gate with a positive attitude, only to end up feeling defeated after a mere 24 hours of all of us being home.
I’m sure lots of parents experience mixed emotions about summer. The kids have ample structure during the school year, with their weekdays looking something like this… Wake up at 6:30, eat breakfast, go to school at 8:15, eat lunch at 12, come home at 4:15, go to softball practice, eat dinner, do homework, have a snack, go to bed. If you take the element of school out of the equation you have a mess that might look more like this… Wake up at 10, eat breakfast, watch tv, eat, play, eat, watch tv, eat lunch, play, be forced outside by parents, eat, watch tv, eat dinner, nag to go somewhere and do something, play on electronics, eat, go to bed at 10. Yikes! I am so guilty of letting the summer days look like this, simply because I feel paralyzed! You see, I suffer from mental illness (bipolar and PTSD, specifically). The main thing you need to know about my mental illness for the purpose of this post is that I feel emotion 100% stronger than the average person. What makes you excited would probably make me over the moon, once in a lifetime kind of ecstatic. What makes you a little blue probably turns my whole world upside down and makes me feel like I can’t possibly go on. What feels like a normal obstacle to you would likely feel like Mt Everest to me. This is how my brain is wired and it is SO hard to get past. Imagine trying to go about your day to day life as a parent and ALL that it entails, except with your hands cuffed behind your back. Normal tasks suddenly seem impossible.
We can probably all agree that having kids at home brings on a whole new set of circumstances, such as the inevitable “I’m bored”, “I’m hungry” and the typical sibling arguments. For me, these situations, however normal they may be, create a paralyzing fear inside. I say paralyzing because I become so anxious, fearful and overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing– feeling trapped– until the summer has literally past me by. Back-to-school always hits me hard, with mixed emotions. I am left feeling sorry for myself and for my kiddos that I couldn’t muster up the courage to DO something, anything! I am left feeling defeated about the unsuccessful summer and relieved that they are going back to school all at the same time. I am left beating myself up for being a cruddy mama. I am left to scroll the other mama’s facebook pages, envious of their seemingly glorious summers with their kids, filled with swimming, camping, bike rides, zoo trips, and tons of other fun things! Why can’t I be like that? Why do I have to have a mental illness? Why me…
In my 10 years of being a mama, I can honestly say I have only ever taken my kid(s) to the grocery store with me once or twice. I can count on one hand the number of times I have left my house alone with my kids for any reason other than driving them to school or meeting up with my husband (i.e., to go to the park, to go do something). This sounds crazy, I know. It isn’t because I don’t want to, but because I don’t feel capable. Believe me, my to-do list of errands is just as big as anyone’s. I simply don’t feel like I can take my kids with me. I’m scared, anxious and nervous, I’m sad, and above all, I’m downright MAD. I’m mad at myself for letting my illness control me for so long, in this important aspect of my life! I literally only have 18 summers to enjoy my babies… and even that isn’t guaranteed.
If you can relate to me in any way so far, let me know! I’d love to hear your stories and experiences!
So, what now?! With the help of my supportive hubby, I have devised a plan for summer that is going to help me enjoy and maximize my time with my precious little ones! We had a painful (for me) discussion about what my hang-ups are when it comes to leaving the house alone with my kids. We discussed my fears, what makes me the most anxious, what types of things I enjoy, my favorite places to go, and…most essential… what changes I could make to help me overcome this slump! Here’s a snapshot of what we came up with, based on my answers. Your plan might look a little different than this, and that’s totally fine!! We decided that having a plan, ANY PLAN, is better than diving head first into uncharted territory!
We discussed ways to begin. First and foremost, start small. I can’t tell you how important this is. I’ve had too many miserably failed attempts simply because I was trying to go all out (like taking my kids to a huge carnival by myself), or because my expectations were too high (5-year olds are bound to complain about something), or because I didn’t prepare properly. My hubby encouraged me by suggesting I start out with a small goal, such as “take both kids to the park for a picnic lunch”. This might seem a little ordinary and mundane to some people, but to me it would be a huge accomplishment. Then, I would need to determine what I need to do to prepare for that goal. To plan ahead for a picnic with two kids, it’s wise to bring a small cooler of some sort with drinks, prepare food ahead of time, and gather a blanket or camping chairs for seating. Other ideas might be to include sunscreen and a ball, jump rope or other little activities to help entertain the kids. Before heading out, it is important to know that this isn’t going to be a perfect outing, regardless of how well you’ve planned. Someone might get hungry even after they’ve ate, someone might be too hot or too bored, someone might get stung by a bee and someone might throw a fit about leaving. IT’S OKAY! You can’t control everything all the time. I’ve learned that the less I let myself get worked up about little obstacles such as these, the less my kids feed into them. After all, mishaps won’t be remembered, only the energy you bring. They really feed off my positive attitude and carefree, go-with-the-flow vibe!
Here are a few tips I added that are essential to remember, in my book!
One of my biggest hangups, along with the emotional aspect of things, is that I am very unorganized when it comes to this stuff. I’m an efficient and organized secretary, party planner and house-cleaner, but when it comes to mom-business, no way! I have a tendency to wait until the day of, only to become overwhelmed and hung up on making a last minute, frantic decision. Of course, I end up doing nothing! This brings me to my next point… staying home is okay! I compiled a list of things to do at home for the kids- a variety of boredom busters for the kiddos! And, in case your mama never told you, being bored is OKAY too!! No one says you HAVE to entertain your kids 24/7. Summer is a great time for the kids to get their creativity flowing with unstructured free time.
This is about as unstructured as it gets… we were creating potions and casting chants with mud, rocks, leaves, and used cups from Subway. Note the potion smeared across both our faces.
If and when I do want to venture outside the home, I found that it is more manageable to stick to places I know and things that are familiar to me already. For me, venturing out for the first time with both kids is not going to be the ideal time to scope out a new hiking trail. I can reserve new places and things for when my hubby is joining us… just in case! That familiarity will help me, in that I thrive off knowing what to expect. Of course, you can’t always count on the expected, because sometimes things change. I live in Michigan, where the weather, like me, is bipolar. The lake day I had planned with the kids could start off with sunny skies and 80 degree weather, only to take a turn with rain showers and a cold front by noon. This happens… but it doesn’t have to ruin your day! Having a backup plan is a great idea! Instead of going to the lake, we could keep driving down I-94 to McDonald’s play place!
Another go-to is reaching out to my support system. Without them, I would be an even bigger mess. I have a few close, trustworthy friends that I can call at any time, day or night, and they will help me. Sometimes, all it takes is some encouragement and positive vibes from them and I am good to go! Other times, I need to vent and ugly cry face-to-face. Either way, I know my support peeps are right there when I need them. Just knowing this helps a ton– like the placebo effect!
You see, having something solid, something I can count on is what I thrive off! A plan of action, written down well in advance is exactly what I needed to turn summer around and make it enjoyable for all! While I can’t always guarantee the best day ever, I can guarantee my attempts in making it the best possible summer for myself and for my kids. Check out this list of free and budget friendly activities to do with your littles this summer! Notice: they are nothing super extravagant, but they are sure to please your kiddos and make YOU feel like you had an active summer with them!
This list can be added to and edited for what will work for you and your circumstances! I’m sure as you scan my list, tons more ideas will start coming to mind! I keep thinking of more as I’m typing, like have a water gun fight, make foot/hand print art, or make a donation pile! Whatever you do, just remember, do your best because your best is good enough, mama!!