Ahhh, summertime. The lazy, hazy, carefree days of summer. That is – if you’re a child. If you’re a parent who has their kids home for the summer, chances are that unless you are some sort of a ninja-superhuman-unicorn parent, that you too are navigating the daily minefield of looking after small children. If you’re also somehow managing a career on top of this, it’s a balancing act quite unlike any other.
Now – I have to say, before I go on, that part of the reason why I became self-employed was that so I *could* spend more time with my kids in the summer. I know it’s a gift to be able to share these moments with them while they’re still little. I am nothing but grateful for this time with them, and thanks to technology, I’m incredibly thankful to be able to work from home, or anywhere that’s not an office. The thing that changed for me this summer, however, was that our saint-of-a-caregiver had the opportunity to go on the trip of a lifetime with her kids to Europe for two months. So, normally where I would have my kids in childcare at least part-time so I can manage my work, this summer, it’s 90% me taking care of my kids. And guys I am not used to this. A few weeks into this gig, and I can say I’ve learned quite a bit:
- Caregivers Don’t Get Paid Enough. Seriously. I thought I knew this before, but taking care of small children all day who are full of beans, irritated by the heat, bored, overstimulated, hyper, loud, happy or cranky, is something you can’t just tap out of. You don’t get a lunch break, a pee break, or even a quick moment to run an errand without a team of littles at your ankles. It is non-stop mental, emotional, and physical activity.
- It Takes Virtually Nothing To Set Off A Sibling Fight. Holy shit. The fighting. The. Fighting. Out of the blue, totally unprovoked fighting. My kids start losing their shit with each other over something as trivial as who gets to operate the Netflix remote. “Mine! No mine! Mine!! Mine mine mine!!!” And just when I think they have their shit sorted out, there is almost always a revenge smackdown three minutes away. I am working hard – so hard – on getting them to manage their own disputes, but this does not change the fact that the default reaction to sibling drama is to shout “MOMMY!!! He hit me. She’s not sharing. He pinched me. She’s not being nice. He’s riding the dog. She took my juice….” It’s truly, truly mind boggling. But on that note…
- The Sibling Bond Will Still Grow. When my kids aren’t fighting, they’re actually pretty cute together. They are playing with one another, making up games together, laughing together, and sometimes even hugging each other. During the school or daycare year, they are in separate spaces and have their own lives, their own playmates, and their own teachers. They don’t usually get all this time together. Watching them spend time together, even between the fighting, is actually immensely rewarding.
- Splash Pads Are Your Best Friend. I have been experimenting with what I like to call “High Value” activities for kids. By High Value, I mean the activities where kids can have the most independent amount of fun, with the least amount of intervention or assistance needed from me. Ranked at the top of this High Value list, is going to a splash pad. At splash pads, there is usually nothing for the kids to climb up on, they are usually enclosed, and the kids have a choice to be in or out of the water. What this translates into for me is, other than needing to help them go pee, or fetching a towel if someone gets cold, I may get lucky and find some independent time to have a conversation or do some work. My kids seem to be able to enjoy 3-4 hours of play at a splash pad, no problem. Bonus: After a day at the splash pad, the kids end up tired as shit, and it makes bedtime a whole lot easier.
- If You’re At Home, Don’t Even Try To Relax. Just don’t. Your kids will sense it – as soon as you go to take that seat on the couch, write an email, or make a phone call, there’s pretty much a money-back guarantee that your kids will declare war 0.4 of a second later. Or, they will loudly proclaim their hunger to justify the 18th snack of the morning. Or, one of them will need to poop and needs you to get up and turn the bathroom pooh fan on. Set your expectations low for relaxing while the kids are awake, friends. Relaxing is for when they go to bed.
- You Should Stock Up On Wine. I’m not sure that this needs to be said – but I’m going to say it anyway. When you do finally put the kids in bed and have some adult time, nothing will taste better than a glass of red or white outside on the porch. You’ve earned that wine. Don’t go light. Stock up.
- You Will See Your Village As Guardian Angels. Neighbours, grandmas, mom-friends, and basically anyone who has offered to help you out if things get overwhelming, are angels. This is where your Village saves you. They want to help. If you need to do your job, meet a client, take a moment out for some self-care, or just need a nap, take them up on the help.
- You Will Feel Like You’re Living Your Second Childhood. Minus the responsibility part, there’s something pretty awesome about picking up a box of popsicles and eating them with your kids on the porch. There’s something magical about letting your guard down and running through the splash pad at full speed. There’s something nostalgic about making a run for the ice cream truck in a heat wave, and trying to eat the ice cream fast enough so it doesn’t melt. These are the moments you will remember most with your kids – and these are the moments they will remember most with you.
So, if you too have your kids home for the summer, know that you’re not alone. Even if you’re down to your last shred of sanity, you are surviving, and you’re doing it while making memories with your kids. It’s not an easy balancing act – but you’ve got this. We’ve all go this.