How to Survive Summer with Kids

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!!

The Ultimate Guide to Taking Action

Taking steps towards what you really want…

With the start of a new year, I consistently hear and see talk of goals. People tend to rely heavily on the notion that a new year equals a fresh start– what better time to take action, right?! Well, sort of. The problem with this thought process is this: a lot of the time there is way too much hype, not enough action. I get it… setting a goal leads to planning a course of action. If you are anything like me, and the majority of people I talk to, you plan but never get around to implementing those plans. Or, maybe you do, briefly, but not long enough to truly accomplish what you want.

Don’t worry… if this sounds like you, here is a list of guidelines to push you towards ACTION!

  1. Don’t wait for the “perfect time”. News flash: the perfect time is NOW! While a fresh mindset can be productive, it can actually be counterproductive to put things off for a better time. “I’ll start Monday”, “I’ll make it my New Year resolution”, and “I’m waiting for my friend to do it with me” are only going to lead to thoughts like, “Eh, I’ve waited this long… one more day won’t hurt”.
  2. You don’t need to wait until you have all the answers. How? What? Why? When? Where? Who? These questions and a slew of others are bound to come up, especially if what you want to accomplish involves unfamiliarity. Research can typically provide the answers to several questions; however, some answers are best found by simply starting. Some actions require trial and error and learning by doing. If I were to wait to start writing until I had all the answers, I would never be able to start… ever. Get comfortable with not knowing everything and leaving some questions unanswered until a later time.
  3. Stop Overthinking. It’s okay to put thought into what you do, but too much thought can be dangerous. Overthinking often leads to stress, intimidation and giving up before starting. I am one of those people… I tend to overthink everything. I wonder, ponder, contemplate and think until I have exhausted my brain power and experience burn out. Overthinking is counterproductive, more often than not.
  4. Take messy action. This is one of the most valuable tools I can pass along. I can’t tell you how many years I have been carrying on about starting a blog. While the ideas were always there, I let my flawed thought process get in the way and never actually put pencil to paper. Until now. So, what changed? I am still me– scared, hesitant, and slightly intimidated. There is one difference: I was introduced to the concept of “messy action”. The friend who brought this concept into the light for me taught me that it is way better to just do it! Messy action is still action. No, it isn’t perfect, but it is something. No matter your endeavor in life, jump in with both feet and just go with it. This leads me to the next tip…
  5. Let go of perfection. I realize how hard this is for perfectionists, like myself. I rewrite my grocery list as many times as it takes to get a copy with zero errors, because I refuse to have scribbled out words. The problem with this is: I spend way too much valuable time trying to be perfect and less time focusing on the real goal. Half the time, I give up on writing the list, then have nothing to refer to at the grocery store! Focus on the goal, not on how perfectly you can get there.
  6. You can always re-evaluate/reorganize. Here is where trial and error is useful! You might not have all the answers, you might not have a perfectly foolproof plan, and it might be messy, but you will learn from doing. We already know that doing something is better than nothing. The first week of exercise might teach you that working out in the evenings is not for you. No problem! Next week, try working out in the morning! Edit and rework your course of action until it best suites you.
  7. Planning is overrated. Some planning is inevitable and can allow our actions to run smoother. However, becoming obsessed with planning the future prohibits us from moving towards actions in the present. I am all too familiar with getting burnt out on planning before I start actually doing. Somtimes, planning creates a wall, leading me to feel stuck, intimidated, stressed, tired or overwhelmed. Focus on the goal, create a plan, and move on to implementing that plan.
  8. Baby steps count. If you’re anything like me, you love instant gratification and seeing immediate results. I hate waiting. Sometimes, though, we fail to realize the power of progress. Maybe we haven’t completely achieved the goal or end result, but look at the progress that’s been made! Each baby step counts as taking action and moves us closer to the end goal. Tracking each baby step on paper helps when visualizing progress. Smart phones have several fun options for progress trackers, as well!
  9. Act with intent. Actions are deliberate. All too oftem, we get caught up in the daily grind and act out of habit. We go to work, take care of kids, cook dinner, etc… However, if you know what you want and put forth a conscious effort, you can intentionally achieve that thing you want. For example, if weight loss is my goal, but I haven’t exercised in years, then I am most likely not going to habitually start exercising and eating clean. Rather, I am likely to think about working out briefly, if at all, only to find myself scrolling through Facebook while eating chips on the couch. If I truly intend to lose weight and start exercising, I have to put forth much more mental effort and take intentional steps towards that goal. Living life in a passive way, out of habit, might be easier than living an intentional, active life; but, it rarely gets you what you want in terms of goals and achievements.
  10. You may or may not want to work alone. I consistently see people partnering up to make gains and hear people claiming that they are incapable of “doing it alone”. Finding your tribe and linking arms with like-minded people is fabulous! However, don’t feel like you have to take this route to begin your journey. Some people do better and stay more focused when they work towards their goals solo. Support from friends and family is always beneficial, but this doesn’t mean these people need to be doing exactly what you’re doing. Do you and do it well. I noticed that when I try to work with a friend on a common goal, I end up obsessed with comparisons on our journey, which only hinders my progress. Sometimes working in pairs or teams is suitable, but not always. Don’t get hung up on finding someone to join you, because you may find it actually slows you down.

If you feel like you are spinning your wheels and getting no where fast, go through this list and see if anything applies to you. Taking action isn’t always easy. If it were, it wouldn’t be so exhilarating when we achieve what we want! This doesn’t mean that all is lost, though, as these tips and tricks are easier than you may think. Always remember, you can accomplish anything, especially if you tweak your mindset a little! Have faith in the process and take action!

Until next time,