Summer: It’s Complicated
Mom guilt aside, I have a love-hate relationship with the school year. I love the daily rhythm, structure, and deadlines it brings, and hate the busy-ness, struggles with homework, and gross school lunches Elle insists on eating. But summer… My relationship status with summer is best described as “it’s complicated.”
Summer brings freedom from the deadlines and pressures of school, yes. It brings long days of sunshine, memory-making, and unstructured growth. But summer with an only child can also bring dread, misery, and downright boredom for both mother and child.
Raising an only child was never in my plans, but after 8 years of doing just that, I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on it. I’ve learned to have a chat with every new babysitter about how different it is babysitting one kid versus a gaggle. I’ve learned to force my introverted self out a little more so that our daughter could get more experience sharing, communicating with children her age, and engaging in age-appropriate imaginative play. But the one thing I hadn’t learned until our 8th summer together was to shed the mom-guilt of not being the perfect summertime playmate, entertainer, and event planner.
Pressure to Perform
Sure, I want to make each summer magical just like most other moms. And I do plan fun activities and special events to create opportunities for life-long memories. But it’s the pressure to perform to a very attentive solitary audience member that has stirred up legitimate mom guilt dread in my heart as summer approaches.
There is no “play with your brother/sister” option. It’s just you and your kid. All-day long. Every day.
Mom Guilt Memories & Burn Out
Over the years I’ve learned to treat frequent trips to stores like mini vacations, using window shopping like watching a spectacular 3D movie. We’ve gone to splash parks, invited friends to Lego time at the local library, and played video games together. Played badminton and soccer, made colored rice “paintings,” and held tea parties. We’ve ridden bikes together and finished long chapter books that I read aloud from each night. Looking back, we’ve made some beautiful summer memories.
However, some of those memories are darkened by the anxiety of creating those memorable moments day after day without respite. And there are even memories of times I’ve wound up in bed so anxious about what I have to plan for the next day that I couldn’t sleep at all.
My Lightbulb Moment
After years of mounting dread and anxiety over the Best Summer Ever Show I felt compelled to put on each summer, I finally had an epiphany. The epiphany was just advice that my husband had been giving me summer after summer – but I was finally so desperate that I actually believed it. The epiphany was this:
I’m a good mom. I plan a tea party and sign my kid up for summer activities and when we go to Disney World. I’m also a good mom when I take some alone time before, during, and after making those memories to recharge and re-center myself. I don’t have to have my entertainer hat on 24/7 during the summer.
When I let that truth sink into my frazzled heart, I felt a heavy burden lift off my shoulders.
Taking Time for Me
This summer I’m managing the Best Summer Ever Show for a tween and a toddler. The age gap doesn’t add just another ring to my circus, but two entirely separate tents. A library summer program for the tween doesn’t quite work for the toddler. Playing with blocks for an hour every single day doesn’t quite work for the tween. I’ve had to learn a new act – juggling emojis, nap times, dabs, and diaper bags – to continue my greatest show on earth.
I’ll be honest: the learning curve has been exhausting at times. And that’s why taking time for me has been such a crucial life lesson. After I feed the toddler breakfast, I eat a very quick breakfast in peace. I ask my tween to save her questions until after I’m done eating. During my toddler’s nap time, I spend time with my tween but leave some time for me too. After cooking and eating dinner as a family, my husband lets me disappear for 5-30 minutes, knowing it’s a time I use to recharge myself for the final sprint of the day.
Sometimes “me time” is spending 5 mind-numbing minutes on Facebook. Other times it’s reading a chapter or two of the book I’m on. “Me time” can be working on a hobby, eating a treat, texting a friend, or watching Pinterest’s daily food videos. (Is anyone else addicted to those too?)
Your Permission Slip
Since realizing my job as a mother isn’t synonymous with a job as a professional entertainer, I don’t dread summer as much. I’ve learned to let go of the mom-guilt. My toddler and tween are still making memories even though the Best Summer Show Ever is playing maybe half the time it used to be. And when the “show” is on, the Ring Leader looks more vibrant, has more energy, and can truly savor each moment.
So, I challenge you, Mama – if you’re stressed out trying to pack fun memorable moments into every second of every day, it’s ok if you stop. It’s ok if you take a 5-minute (or 30-minute) break. Do something completely unrelated to your kids or to summer or to making memories. Ultimately, your kids, and your Best Summer Show Ever, will thank you for it.
More Summer Ideas
- Summer Reading List
- A Summer of Traveling, Memories, and Learning
- Ideas for the Family During Self-Isolation