Summertime. A time for relaxing by the pool or sipping lemonade on the front porch. A time for sleeping in and vegging out in front of some sort of screen. A time for catching up with your favorite book or podcast. A time for new adventures on the road or a trip down the shore. As kids, we all look forward to summer mostly because it doesn’t involve school. No more homework. No more tests. No more waking up early to catch an overcrowded bus. Summertime means freedom, or at least it did when we were kids.
Now, I’m an adult, with adult responsibilities and adult habits. I have bills to pay, a house to care for, and children to raise. There are no summer vacations or any vacations unless I’ve accrued enough time to take leave, and the other jobs do not stop simply because it’s summer. It’s just hotter; now the kids are out of school and need somewhere to go and/or something to do. In case you don’t know or forgot, my husband and I share three children together, and typically since we both work full time, they go to a summer camp program during the summer. And usually, the only times they might be home with me are those PCS or moving summers. The difference is, however, that I am not working, so my attention is not diverted elsewhere.
Skip to 2020, Covid was hip happening, and new and everything was closed, including any summer camp program. I found myself working from home still and now faced with the challenge of finding ways to entertain three kiddos who only wanted to sit in front of a screen. Thankfully, I had been at my job for a year at that point, had a routine down pat, and was able to schedule clients and meetings around my kids’ needs. We invested in a pool for the backyard and I partnered with friends and neighbors I already knew wherein we’d watch each other’s kiddos to relieve each other of the responsibility if but for a day. Furthermore, my husband was not working a normal schedule either. He was either every other day or every other week or working half-days so it made things on me a little easier. Before we knew it, school was back in session, and while they were still home, at least they had something to lock in their attention for the vast majority of the work day. And I was relieved that that would be the last time I would ever have to do something that stressful again.
Or so I thought.
As I’ve mentioned before, our move to Florida was a lot. I mean we are still waiting for the Army to pay us what is owed from that move. And the timing of it all through everything out of wack. At times, I feel like I’m still trying to put things back on track. As such, our move to our rental home was meant to be temporary and we decided to start looking to buy a house a few months after we settled in. A couple months after we signed our new home contract, I started a new job that offered me a life-changing salary and I was more excited than ever to finally be more than comfortable. We could do more things as a family. I could pay off more debt. And what’s best is that I could keep this job even after we moved. It was a dream. But then our interest rate locked and with the rates increased, we found our mortgage payment was going to be a little more than we expected. Not that we couldn’t afford it, but it definitely made us put some things in perspective, one of them being summer camp for the children. I so badly wanted to find some kind of solution as I had told my husband I was not going to balance working and childcare once again. “That ship has sailed,” I said fervently. Apparently, I wasn’t fervent enough.
So here I am, two months into having the kids home for the summer, while balancing a newish- job and trying to create meaningful and memorable activities for kids who just want to veg. I mean it would be so much easier to let them, right? They wouldn’t fight (as much) and they’d leave me alone. I could get so much more done. But alas, that is not the kind of mom I am. I knew I needed to create some kind of routine where there was a balance of meaningful activity, a splash of continuing education, and a whole lot of fun. And while our new house is indeed the biggest one we’ve ever lived in, anywhere can start to feel small when you stay in it for too long. I knew I needed to find a way to get the kids out of the house, not an easy feat when trying to stack your coins, and when it is so dang hot. So with that being said, how did I find a way to make it to two weeks out from school starting without losing my dang marbles?
I created a schedule. I know I know, a schedule in the summer? Yuck! I mean what happened to sipping lemonade and lounging by the pool? I promise we still do that but this schedule helps us all to know what the day holds. We know that anything could happen, but it provides structure so that the kids know what they have to do so that they can get to do what they want. Most days the schedule looks the same. School work (which is just workbooks and online games) takes place in the morning, followed by reading. The kids are then to do their daily chores. After that, they are encouraged to eat while I put a movie on for them. And provided they’ve taken care of all their must-dos, they get ample screen time. Since screen time is what they desperately seek, I use it as a motivator to help them get through the things they don’t care much for. The schedule will also include reminders for anything special happening that day such as therapy or any meetings or appointments I might have. I also list any practices that are scheduled for that day so that they know to have their clothes and gear ready. As for me, I get up early and get started on my day sometimes before the sun is up. That affords me time to take several breaks throughout the day to tend to the kids, particularly during their school work time, as I know my son will often need help with some of his assignments, and I still need to sit down with my youngest so that she can read to me. There are still times that are plugged into the day when I can focus on work for some time without disruption.
I set clear expectations. Like I said, screentime is the ultimate motivator. They love YouTube, Roblox, and Nintendo and often that’s all they want to do. But as was common when we were kids, chores will always have to be done. And like any normal kid, mine hate them. So after a disastrous chore day (a day where all the chores were done in one day) and after it takes all day and then some, paired with some complaining and a lot of distractions, I sat down with the kids and explained to them that they have equal parts their father and me within them. While their father is one to wait until the last minute to do everything, I tend to break things apart and get them down a little at a time. I explained that while they should find a way that works best for them, their father’s way doesn’t seem to work well for them, at least not now while they are still learning how to manage their time and responsibilities. So we bought them each a weekly calendar for them to write down which chore they would like to do during each weekday, leaving the weekends open for all fun. So far, it has helped them prioritize what needs to be done, what can wait, and how to share the responsibility among the three of them. Please hold to see if this works over a longer period. I never know with these kids.
I planned at least two outings a week. This part is tricky with my job and all. But thankfully, I have access to my email and to my colleagues through that piece of fruit that’s always with me which makes it a bit easier to take the kids out a couple times a week. It’s been challenging to get my kids outside, especially since it’s so hot, even before 10 am. Some of our weekly outings include the community pool, the library, the bowling alley, and the trampoline park. As long as I can have my phone or computer with me, I can work pretty much anywhere. Going on these outings allows me to break up what can easily become a monotonous week while encouraging the kids to do something active. And it gives them something to look forward to.
I prioritized and delegated must-dos for myself. I have a tendency to try to take on more than I can handle while there are people around who can help out. I am very fortunate to have a husband who is a hands-on father. As such, I often delegate much of the home maintenance responsibilities to him. If the lawn needs to be mowed or flower beds weeded, that’s on him. What’s for dinner tonight? I don’t know, that’s on him. Who’s installing our new smart thermostat? Ding, ding, ding… that’s on him. And while this seems like a no-brainer, it is often very difficult for me to delegate jobs that are quite easy for me to do, especially since I’m home. But I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to ask for help and besides, my day is full enough. It’s totally unnecessary to add on more tasks when there is someone else in the house more than capable. We are a team and it was time for me to pass the rock.
I take time for myself before the day begins. When Covid started, I had a tough time handling having the kids home while doing my job at home. I spent each and every day in the same routine, ensuring the kids’ responsibilities and my responsibilities were completed, and while I did my best to protect their mental health through all the craziness, I failed to check in on myself. After a few months in the cold (both figuratively and literally, I added a self-care routine to my mornings which included running and listening to podcasts. It really helped me mentally prepare for whatever the day brought. I’ve continued that habit well into this summer and although the days are unpredictable at times, I find that I am better able to respond rationally when I’ve decompressed before the day begins.
Enjoy my time with my children. Aww, it’s sappy I know, but while I can (and sometimes do) complain about how challenging it is to balance work with stay-at-home mom life, I also know that these years are precious and they are fleeting. I mean, my second child is going to middle school in just a few short weeks! How did this happen so fast? So I know that it is just as important to enjoy this time with them. We take our family time very seriously and I do what I can to take mini breaks here and there to spend time with them. I enjoy reading with them and playing games with them. And I know that even though they are getting older, they do appreciate the attention when I can give it. We cook together. We plant together. We play sports together. And even if it’s just ten minutes, the quality of the time is what I cherish most. Sure, my job is very very important to me and is a priority, but so are my kids and work will always be there in the morning. That opportunity to make fudge-dipped marshmallows with my daughter may not be.
So there it is. I may not be the perfect mom, and this may not be the most perfect summer, but we are making do with the situation we find ourselves in. Are there days where I am resentful that once again childcare is squarely on me? Of course. Are there days where I just want to say F it and just let the kids do what they want? Most definitely. But if I’ve learned anything from this crazy lifestyle, it’s to be adaptable and resilient. Military lifestyles, while good in some ways is more so a sacrifice on the spouse’s part. We often times become the default parent and everything is squarely on us to handle. It can be a lot. But despite the challenges that are inevitable with balancing work life and mom life, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself. The kids are happy, they’ve learned some responsibility, they get plenty of rest, and I’m still learning more about my position and taking on more responsibility when I get it. The key here is balance, and when gets super crazy, remember to keep calm and steady.
Now where is my lemonade and new book…