We officially hung our Summer Bucket List on our living room wall yesterday even though we are two weeks away from the finish line. We just wanted to see it to help us stay motivated to keep running. I made sure there’s a clear shot of the bucket list from the counter where I make the kids’ lunches in the morning because: Eye on the Prize. The kids noticed the list as soon as they walked in the door from school yesterday and came running to excitedly point out all the things they’re looking forward to.
Which brings me to the question…Are you looking forward to summer? Because, if the thought of summer doesn’t have you dreaming of skipping in a field of wildflowers with your children and delighting in the fact that you get to be with them ALL DAY LONG (cue heart rate increase), that’s absolutely perfectly normal and okay. Part of the reason why I so put so much of my heart into summer and making a big deal of our bucket list is to counteract the reality of the white flag I know I will be waving some days. Making a plan and writing down simple delights we want to experience together helps me remember that summer isn’t about delivering an over-the-top magical experience for my kids. It’s about enjoying things myself–simple things like pulling over to pick wildflowers or initiating a hotel room pillow fight on vacation–and inviting my kids to enjoy those things with me.
I received the following direct message this week:
I bought your summer guide and am so excited to look through it. I am assuming (maybe I’m wrong) your family has rough days where kids don’t listen, they argue and fight just like mine. We are planning an at home summer of togetherness, and I’m wondering if you have any tips on regrouping and redirecting everyone into a fun and enjoyable day? It’s my biggest worry for the summer. Sometimes it’s so hard to stop once they are on the bad day train.
I know this is relatable to so many, so I’ll offer a collective AMEN! from the congregation and throw in my suggestions. But first:
Hell hath no fury like a mom who dreamed up a glorious summer in her head and watched her dream burn in flames when her family effed it up on the first day of summer with their fighting and complaining and refusal to smile for a picture at the farmer’s market which they all think is boring and dumb.
If you’re like me, moments like these trigger dramatic conversations in my head that sound like: My family is the Worst and What did I do wrong?
Don’t worry, you did nothing wrong. Some things that are helpful to me in moments like these:
1) HUMOR! Laugh at the reality of parenting. Text your best friend or your sister and tell them about the day going to hell. They’ll likely text back a funny gif and tell you about their kids who are acting worse than yours. My best friend Heidi and I have countless stories of adventures we took our kids on with dreamy aspirations only to be disappointed with how much they didn’t appreciate it as much as we did. We don’t let that bring us down though. We make jokes about how horrible we are because we actually wanted to spend time with the kids, and we make sure the kids see us laughing and continuing on. Most of the time, our happiness is contagious, and the kids come around (If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.).
2) Create a code word or phrase that brings everyone together. This year, we designated a silly random word that represents a white flag when things are escalating and emotions are rising. Anyone can yell it to signal to everyone that we need to stop talking, take a breath and regroup before we regret saying something we didn’t intend to say or losing our cool. The sillier the word, the better. Create a game plan for how the word will be used. Maybe everyone stops talking and runs to the couch for 60 seconds of silence. Or perhaps it’s a signal for a 2-minute dance break.
3) You set the tone. Our kids follow our lead. I’m passionate about one thing when it comes to summer–it is as much about me enjoying moments and having fun as it is about delivering enjoyment and fun to my kids. Kids are far more likely to truly enjoy a moment or an experience when they see you loving it too. Talk about how much you’re loving simple things. Your enthusiasm will rub off on them.
4) The power of spontaneity. It’s my favorite tool in parenting and has cured so many bad days. Do something crazy. When things have felt out of control and need a little attitude defibrillation, I’ve actually yelled, “Everybody, get in the car now! Surprise destination!” to get everyone excited and running to the car when really, I have zero idea what that surprise will be and have to figure it out once we get driving. But it’s worked. And it doesn’t have to be a destination. You can call “pajama day” at 1:00 in the afternoon and summon everyone to the living room for a movie. Or create a challenge–give your kids a recipe and tell them they have to host their own cooking show in the kitchen. Let them record video of it and debut their show to the family that evening.
5) Know you’re not alone. In those moments where plans have failed and the house is a mess and no one seems happy, know that for every mom posting a perfect summer vacation moment on social media, there are three moms who are standing in their kitchen wondering what they hell they are doing wrong. Just because a few hours are a wash doesn’t mean your entire summer is a wash. You still hold the reigns, and the opportunities for meaningful summer memories are still plenty. The wildflower field will welcome you when you’re ready, and at the end of the day–even the bad ones–you can still tiptoe out to lie in the back yard, look up at the stars and know that summer’s goodness is there for you. When your mind is feeding you scarcity, counteract it with abundance. There is more.
For more summer inspiration, an epic summer bucket list and lots of creative, simple ideas to bring joy to your summer, check out Once Upon a Summer, a PDF guide. I poured my summer-loving heart into it.