The modern-day mom is the product of being told we could be whatever we wanted to be when we grow up, while also being raised during a time when traditional gender roles (where mom managed the home and took care of the kids while dad worked) were still the norm. Now, we feel like we should have everything, do everything, and be everything.
We’re Frankenstein’s monster, built from witnessing the creation and evolution of the internet and reality television. Every day, we’re inundated with media where moms are made to look like they have endless time and energy (while, actually, nannies are taking care of the children), and we’re given 24/7 access to people’s lives via social media. At this point, it’s impossible not to compare ourselves—and our mom guilt is deafening and pervasive.
Parents today are spending more time with their kids than previous generations, but many of us still feel like we’re never quite measuring up. Throw in the fact that technology has made it so that we can never fully sign off from work, it’s easy to see why we always feel like we’re coming up short. How can we both be spending more time with our kids and working more? By burning ourselves out. And there are two peak seasons where we feel immense pressure to make non-stop memories and extensive guilt when we don’t: summer and the holidays.
Many mothers say they finally start feeling more like themselves when their kids are between the ages of 4 to 6, when they are a little more resilient and self-reliant and begin attending school, allowing parents a few hours of long-awaited “me-time.” Then summer comes back around, and things start feeling very 4th trimester all over again, but in graduated ways. Those fortunate enough to stay home or work from home are tasked with entertaining the kids while also juggling work, trying to maintain the kids’ routine, and keeping some semblance of self. And if you work outside of the house and you’ve managed to piece together a summer full of day camps and childcare, there is an added layer of guilt and a feeling that you aren’t doing more to make memories with your kids.
It’s the new guilt-generating summer anthem for parents. Another kick to the stomach with every drum beat: make magic every day, make magic every day.
The annual social media reminder that you only get 18 summers with your child is a recipe for stress, anger, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy. It’s also total bulls**t.
Rumplestiltskin doesn’t hobble over on your child’s 18th birthday to take away your mom card. Motherhood is a beautiful journey through different seasons, and it doesn’t have to stop once your kid legally becomes an adult. Instead of focusing on 18 summers, what if we focus on being the type of parents our kids want to be around? What if we focus on giving our kids a childhood that’s as safe and trauma-free as possible?
Summers with your kids don’t need to be nonstop fun and adventure full of trips and packed itineraries. They can be lazy afternoons watching movies together, running through the sprinkler, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, and chins stained blue or red from one too many ice pops. After all, it’s OK, and even beneficial, for kids to be bored sometimes.
Of course, we know we can tell you “it’s OK” until we’re blue in the face, and you’ll still feel that tinge of guilt, so here are some sanity-saving tips for making it through the summer with your kids.
Lower your expectations
Most of the time, the source of where we feel the most judgment comes from within. We have to give ourselves the same grace we give to other parents and tell ourselves that it’s okay to remove some items off our to-do list if they’re going to put us into debt mentally, physically, or emotionally for the day.
Check-in with yourself
Some days the things we want to do or think we should be doing don’t correspond with our energy levels, and that’s just fine. Mothers are notorious for putting themselves last, which makes it easy for burnout to creep up on us.
We have 24/7 access to various social media platforms, and while it’s great to stay connected, it’s also bait for falling into the comparison trap. Having continuous access to a rather dismal news cycle and the celebrity gossip that invades our newsfeeds may seem convenient, but that constant exposure will only affect your mental well-being (and not in a good way).
OK, we understand this may come off as a privileged solution to all your parenting problems, but finding a reprieve, even for a couple of hours, can make all the difference. But we understand that finding a babysitter isn’t always easy or affordable, so if that isn’t an option, ask a family member to watch them for a few hours while you run errands. Another great idea is to share childcare with a friend by taking her kids for the day, and then she can return the favor on another day. You both get your alone time, and your kids get a playdate. You can also do a “nanny-share” with a friend or neighbor—where you hire a babysitter to watch several kids from two families at one house or central location, and you split the cost. Or, if it’s offered in your area, look for drop-off activities like day camps or events in activity centers, community centers, or churches. Also, check out your local YMCA or fitness center because some will offer date-night drop-offs or a few hours of supervised open play to give you some time to run errands (or sit at home in silence—whatever works for you).
Let your kids decide
Ask your kids what they want to do. Most likely, they just want to hang out with you. They don’t need an expensive vacation or an adventure. They may just want to play in the yard and show you their cool new tricks. It’s also important to tell them when you need some downtime.
While a good reminder to be more present as a parent, don’t let the “18 summers” rhetoric stress you out. There are many seasons to enjoy as we grow with our children. Once your kids reach adulthood, there will be brunches, holidays, vacations, laughter over inappropriate humor you can finally share, weddings, and births. And at some point, your kids will come across the “18 summers” advice on their own, and you’ll get to sit down with your grown-up baby and assure them that you never stop being a mother—and that, with a little luck and a lot of love, there are so many more than 18 summers to spend with your kids.