Summers can be great and summers can be brutal. And I am not just talking about the heat.
I am talking about the challenges that summer can be for me as a working mom.
This summer marks my sixteenth year as a mother, and in those sixteen years I have traveled back and forth along the stay-at-home to work-outside-the-home spectrum. I have been stay-at-home mom, a work-from-home mom, a part-time outside-the-home working mom, and a full-time outside the home working mom. I have worked for myself and I have worked for other people. I have worked at a school so as to be on my kids schedules, and I have worked through the summers, and I have spent the summers completely at home. My kids have had in-home childcare, outside the home childcare, family member childcare, public school, charter school, Mother’s-Day-Out childcare, and me.
In my sixteen years mothering I have made my way through most of the mommy war scenarios, and I can tell you that they are all hard and they are all rewarding. They all have drawbacks and they all have benefits. And summer is the Achilles heel of all of them.
This summer is my second summer as a Working-Outside-the-Home-Full-Time-Not-On-a-School-Schedule- Mom.
Between my youngest son’s Kindergarten and Fifth Grade school years, I worked on a school schedule, which meant that I had the majority of my boys summer break off with them. But when I took a job in full-time ministry, all of that changed. While my schedule has a lot more flexibility in it than other full-time jobs might, it still requires me to keep office hours, take shifts being on call to my church members, and to work some nights and weekends (and of course Sundays.)
To say that I was unprepared for what this change would mean for our summer schedule is understatement.
Last summer was a disaster. A completely mess of unrealistic expectations of myself, frustration with how my boys were spending their days (which usually involved too much media and not enough chores,) guilt over being away from them so much, guilt over being frustrated by their general adolescentness outlook (i.e. too much media, not enough chores) due to my lack of planning, sadness that I was missing out on the summer fun I had grown accustomed to, and bone weary exhaustion from trying to run in too many different directions at once.
We all survived, but not without a lot of regret on my part. And I don’t do regret well.
As we entered the school year and returned to a familiar rhythm, I took stock of the summer and made mental and actual notes about what went wrong and how we could do better next year.
I am not generally a big planner – it seems that in my case I make plans just so that God or the universe can break them, but in order to create a new way of living and enjoying summer as a family with a full-time-working-outside-the-home-mom, I decided that creating a summer survival plan might just be the thing that proves the rule.
So without further adieu, here it is:
How to Survive and Enjoy Summer as a Working Mom
Harness the Technology for Good
I have bigger kids. Kids with phones. Kids who need those phones because they stay home a majority of the summer. Kids who catch rides with friends to the movies while I am work. Kids who are sometimes still asleep when I leave for work. Kids who are old enough to do chores.
But like a lot of kids, they are not great at time management. Or at noticing all the things around the house that need to be done. They are easily sucked into the vortex of screens – big, medium, palm size.
And even though I understand this, it is no less frustrating to come home, after a long day at work, to cranky zombie-esque teenagers, and a house that looks like a tornado came through.
So here is our 4 step solution to coming home to a clean house, zombie-free house using technology.
- Text a list of chores to your kids each morning. (You know they see their phones, so no “I couldn’t find/the dog ate it/brother lost it” excuses.)
- Make sure to give a time-specific deadline that is at least 1 hour before you will return home from work or 1 hour before their friends are to pick them up for an outing/they want to walk to the park etc.
- Have them text you a photo or video of EACH completed chore. Use Facetime or Skype if you need to ask questions or see in more detail (for instance if they have to clean a whole room you might want a live tour.)
- Have a consequence in place if they do not meet the time deadline. (Ours is no media until the next day.)
This plan works really well for us (I tested it over Spring Break.) By sending me the pictures I can see what they have or haven’t done (hey kid, cleaning your room includes making the bed!) By having the deadline earlier than my arrival home, I am guaranteed to walk into a clean house instead of kids frantically running around and yelling at each other, trying to get it done before I walk through the door or worse, kids who look up from the screen all glassy-eyed and say “I was just about to do that…jeez Mom!”
Keep a Lid on the Feeding Frenzy
We have boys. Growing boys. Hungry boys. Boys who will eat if they are bored, if they are inspired by a YouTube commercial, boys who will eat because, hey! there is food!
Last summer they ate us out of house and home, and on more than one occasion, I went to make dinner only to find that half of my ingredients were missing – used instead for their lunch, or snack, or culinary experiment. I was not a happy momma.
This summer I am putting a lid on the feeding frenzy. Literally.
I call this weekly plan: A Bin, a Shelf, and a Drawer.
Each week I will fill one small-to-medium plastic bin, one refrigerator shelf, and one refrigeration drawer with items they can eat for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
But here is the catch – once the bin, the shelf, and the drawer are empty, that is it for the week. I am not refilling it until the next week.
So, go ahead kids make all four boxes of mac-n-cheese on Tuesday, I don’t care. But you are not getting any more until Monday.
Want to take the whole jar of trail mix to the game room and eat it while you watch your Star Wars marathon on Thursday night? Go right ahead! But don’t think you can have any of my trail mix on Friday. Sorry kid, you will just have to do without until Monday.
Same goes for the cheese, the bread, the milk, the juice, the cereal, the applesauce, and the ramen noodles.
This is a great way to teach the kids rationing, portion control, self-control, and budgeting, and bonus – it will help keep me from losing my cool when I go to make taco dinner and find that all my cheese and tortillas are gone! After all, hell hath no furry like a momma without her groceries.
Wherever you are, Be all there
A few weeks ago Sweet Man stole me away for an anniversary trip. He planned the entire trip and surprised me with the location and accommodations. In an effort to be present to just him, I took Twitter and Facebook off my phone for the weekend. I knew I spent a lot of time mindlessly looking at my phone, but I had no idea just how bad it had gotten until that trip. I also didn’t realize how much emotional energy I was investing in my Twitter feed in particular.
Part of the stress of last summer was the feeling of always being divided between all my spaces – work, home, and online.
This summer in an effort to curb that feeling I am practicing the spiritual discipline of Being Here.
For me this means:
No Facebook or Twitter on my phone for the summer.
Media-Free Family Time (in the garden, in the pool, in the kitchen, around the table, on the porch,etc.) from 6-9 pm each weeknight, no phones except for the occasional picture-taking for me.
Sticking to Early Morning Routine (getting my writing/blogging time done in the early morning hours while the boys are asleep and the house is quiet,) so I can be present to them when they are awake.
One week into our summer break and I can already tell that these three things are going to be game changers for me. The frantic level is way down, and the peace level is way up.
Get. A. Pool.
Seriously. It will save your working-momma life.
This was our first pool in 2011. I choose it because it was just big enough for a raft. It was a game changer for my summer experience.
This year we have upgraded to one of those big above ground numbers that I swore I would never have, but here we are, and I am happy as a lark about it.
There is something absolutely restorative about coming home from work, getting out of my hot clothes, throwing on a swim suit, and floating on a raft in the cold water, with a cocktail in my hand, that just makes all the juggling and balancing just not seem so stressful anymore. After a good hour of floating I am ready to take on family chore time, dinner making, laundry shoveling, or whatever else life throws my way.
So friends, please, for all our sake. If you can afford even a raft size pool, please get one. You won’t be sorry.
Between camp fees (good golly summer camp is pricey!) and things like pools and adding a teenager to the car insurance, there often isn’t a lot of money leftover for a big family vacation (especially if you have to pay for childcare – big fist bump to all you parents who have to scrounge that ungodly sum of money up over the summer!)
Staycations are nice and can be a less expensive solution, but it is just so hot here in the middle of summer, that all we really want to do is pull the shades tight and sit in a dark cool house and chill. Which makes it the perfect time to do some time-traveling.
Over the past few summers we have begun a tradition of watching vintage Movies and Television shows as family. While we have a no-screen policy in the evenings overall, we occasionally break it by forcing our kids to watch classics (that they moan about and then they love.)
This summer I am having a total nostalgic trip with retro-television, watching the sort of shows I watched during the summer at my grandparents (who had cable) during my long visits. Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Brady Bunch… They all take me back to summers filled with cold glasses of Tang, boxes of Vanilla Wafers, and lazy afternoons when my greatest concern was what I would wear to VBS the next day.
Sharing classic television and movies with our kids has been a fun way to connect our childhoods to theirs, to tell stories of our growing up years, and to enjoy “the good ol’ days” of summer again.
Find a Favorite Summer Cocktail or Mocktail
This cocktail is called the Happy Camper via my friend Whitney and it is amazing (whip cream vodka and lemonade ’nuff said.)
Every momma – working outside the home or not – needs their own special summer cocktail or mocktail. Something light and refreshing.
Something that takes you away from the office and the fighting kids and the busted air conditioner, and instead lands you solidly on a beach or in a cabana, where the lovely Juan or Juanita (take your pick,) brings you fruity drinks, served in a precious cup, with adorable straws, with flirty smile.
Just a little something that is just for you – no kids, no spouse, no sharing.
Whether it is a Ras-Beer-Rita mixed with a juice box (I know how to stay class y’all,) a bottle of your favorite Sangria, or something that requires ten ingredients and a shaker, try to find a summer beverage to sip from your raft in your pool, on the porch after everyone is in bed, or hiding in your room while you binge UnREAL on Hulu, I promise that a personal summer beverage is key to a happy summer survival.
Well friends, this is my grand plan for surviving summer as a working momma. What are your tips? What has worked well for you – as a working mom or stay -at- home mom? I would love to know!
This post was inspired with my conversation with friend Megan Tietz on her podcast Extra Awesome