School ends this week and camp doesn’t start up for nearly two weeks! I am going to be with all four of my kids, who are all different ages and personalities and I am starting to get really scared. I had saved up over the past few months to take them to different amusement parks and trips, but I am exhausted just thinking about it, plus I realized that it will mess up my two-year-old’s nap schedule that I’ve worked so hard to set!
I don’t want to disappoint my older kids (who are finally old enough to appreciate the trips I always dreamed of taking them on), but I don’t want a cranky baby either!
Dear Seasonally Scared,
Summer isn’t as fun as a grown up, huh?
But just because these next few weeks aren’t going to be fun for you, doesn’t mean it has to be a nightmare. Let’s try to make it as tolerable, and dare I say, even enjoyable as possible.
First: Set realistic expectations. You are one person, trying to give four kids age-appropriate and stimulating activities. Taking it to a realistic level, it is basically impossible for one person to be able to do this. (There is a reason that camps are sorted by age, right?) So, first, give up on being able to make every kid happy at every moment. Having to forgo a trip because of a toddler’s nap doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a mommy. It just means that you have a very full plate as a mommy.
Second: Reassess what quality time means. There are so many parents out there who are very good at the trips and activities thing, but when it comes down to actually sitting with the kid and connecting, they have trouble with it. Turns out, the parental connection with the child is the meat of what makes a happy, secure childhood, not the cotton-candy-faced smile on the teacups. Practice with each kid by attuning yourself to them. If one starts to look tense or solemn, ask yourself why that may be.
And then, put that guess out there: “You look tense. Are you nervous about something?” And if you struck upon something, make sure to validate it: “Yeah, that sort of thing would make me tense too.” No need to fix it, just show your kids that you get what they are feeling, it is normal, and you are with them in it.
If this sort of thing is difficult for you, don’t push it. Just open yourself up to noticing it.
Third: Set some sort of schedule with one outside activity for the day. Overstuffing our children’s schedule just burns them out. Find one activity outside of the house per day and leave it at that. This way you can plan it around your youngest’s nap without short-changing the older ones. If you are finding that it really is impossible, even after lowering your expectations to only one activity, consider hiring a babysitter so that you can satisfy everyone’s needs.
Fourth: Find smaller activities that are local. Don’t let the kids play on their DS while the baby is napping. They should have something to do during the wait times. Mad Libs, crafts, bike riding, or even yoga are all activities that can be sprinkled through their day, leaving you feeling satisfied.
Fifth: Make sure that your meals are as scheduled as possible. And while you may want to shift their bedtimes on vacation to later, make sure it is consistent. If you have well-slept, well-nourished kids, it will be a whole lot easier to be on your own with them for so long.
Sixth: Give to thyself. This is actually the foundation of all parenting. When we have fuel in our tank, we can be there for our kids. When we are running low, we start getting cranky and get annoyed with our kids (which then causes them to get cranky, which makes us crankier, etc). You are the roots of the tree here. Even if you don’t care that much about eating or sleeping well, your kids need you to. And giving to yourself very much includes uninterrupted alone time. This can be inside the house while the kids are sleeping, or it can mean having someone watch your kids so you can go out a little. These next few days will feel so intense that just brushing your teeth will feel like going to a spa, but make sure to set something up so that you can give to yourself a little more than the basics.
Aviva Rizel, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Aviva maintains a busy private practice in Cedarhurst, NY where she sees couples, families and individuals. She previously served as the Clinical Director of The Five Towns Marriage Initiative. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), the most effective, research-based model for strengthening couples’ connections. Aviva is also active in educating therapists and laypeople about EFT. Mrs. Rizel and her husband, Meir Rizel, MS, a Mental Health Counselor, enjoy co-lecturing across the tri-state area together almost as much as they enjoy raising their three children together in Far Rockaway, NY. To reach Aviva, email AvivaRizel.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-292-8482 To find out more about Emotionally Focused Therapy, go to iceeft.com.