Who doesn’t love summer? It is a time to be outdoors, and a time to reconnect with friends and family. There is nothing I value more than the long and relaxed weekends and sometimes working remotely from the rustic cottage in New Hampshire that I spent my childhood. However, as much as the summer is a vital period of relaxation, recovery, and reconnection, it is also a time when established habits and routines can and do get upended. If mismanaged, this can create unnecessary distractions and chaos that leave us feeling more exhausted and drained than rejuvenated. This holds especially true for anyone juggling work with parenting duties.
Summer Parenting Challenges
If there is one thing the school year does, it is to entrench habits and systems. During the school year, every week and virtually every moment of the day is structured. In fact, everyone knows exactly what to expect from Monday to Friday as they move through their morning, school, after-school, and evening routines. It might feel a bit predictable (and it is), but in most cases, kids love routines and for a good reason: Routines help minimize the anxiety that so often accompanies the unpredictable. And this brings us to the problem posed by the summer months.
After months of knowing exactly what is happening every weekday, once late June arrives, kids’ schedules start to run amuck. Even if you have your kids enrolled in summer programs, start times and end times tend to vary and morning and evening routines are bound to be far less rigidly structured. While this can be unsettling for your kids, even if they appear to welcome the change of pace, it also impacts you.
Perhaps, you are accustomed to having an hour to yourself every morning from 7:30 to 8:30 just after the kids get out the door and off to school. If you do, you may rely on this quiet time to set goals for day. But what do you do if you lose this time? Likewise, as the summer arrives, you may find yourself under growing pressure to be flexible as other parents call upon you to host or at least participate in longer and more elaborate playdates. Then, there are the natural interruptions caused by the surge in social events and travel that most of experience over the summer months.
Tips to Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed as Routines Shift
Whatever the season, it is important to have a clear line of sight on your goals and to develop habits and systems that can help you find the time and focus needed to achieve these goals. In the summer, however, there are also a few specific steps parents can take to ensure their work and life remain as even keeled as possible.
Plan ahead: Spontaneity is great but for parents, summer fun usually is about preparation not spontaneity. Long before June arrives, aim to have a clear game plan in place for the summer months. Know who is doing what and when. If you have young children who need care throughout the week, this means enrolling them in day camps long before you pull out your summer wardrobe. If you have teens, work with them to come up with a schedule focused on helping them develop skills beyond the classroom through volunteer opportunities, internships, or group travel.
Maintain daily routines: Whether you have small children who naturally wake up early or teens who could sleep all day left if unattended, try to establish a set routine for the summer months. By ensuring your household maintains a regular schedule, you’ll reduce potential distractions and excess grumpiness. After all, no one wants a cranky toddler wandering around the house well past their regular bedtime or a cranky teen looking for breakfast at 3:00 pm.
Put your summer systems in place: Just as the school year works best when you’ve established specific systems (e.g., ensuring school bags are packed before everyone goes to bed each night to minimize morning chaos), put summer systems in place. This might be as simple as having a box of sunhats, water bottles, towels, and sunscreen at the front door so you never find yourself desperately searching for a required day-camp item as you are trying to get two kids out the door.
Don’t sacrifice your “me time”: Summer is a great time to reconnect with family and friends, but don’t sideline your own needs. Find time to go for a walk or run or workout. If you’re accustomed to spending certain times of the day alone at home, replace this with another ritual that enables you to gather your thoughts.
With summer approaching, take time out to imagine your next adventure. Also, think about how you can embrace the season as a time to relax and recover as workloads drop and in many fields, customers and clients disperse. At the same time, put systems in place to avoid feeling overwhelmed, especially by other household members’ disrupted schedules.