The work-at-home summer

School is officially out for our eldest and our youngest has been home from preschool for more than a month now. A surprising chunk of my friends are teachers, so they’re reveling in two-month vacation glory. Others are on maternity leave or are stay-at-home moms.

Being self-employed on a freelance/contract basis without actual childcare, school and preschool are my lifelines. During the summer months, I wake up and stifle the frustration that not only do I have to work while everyone else hits up the pool, I have to work while also giving my kids a fun summer. This means summer, for me, always kind of sucks. I either feel like a slack, meanie mom or a frantic, rushing professional.

I really want this summer to be different. I love a good podcast and my favourite is Happier with Gretchen Rubin — the author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before. In a recent episode, she talked about the benefits of designing a summer that felt different than the rest of the year. Some people, for example, vow to meet up with a different friend for lunch every Friday in July and August.

Lunch dates are out of the question, but I thought maybe there was something I could do to make the summer feel special — and to make me less cranky about the fact that I had to juggle my workload while making dozens of snacks, breaking up squabbles over Mash’Ems and wrestling off wet bathing suits.

What would make me happy? What would make the kids happy? A summer checklist works well for some families, but I know for me it would turn into a failed attempt that would cause me serious guilt.

I toyed with the idea of scheduling my work hours differently. Maybe I’d book off a specific time to work each day while the kids played solo, or maybe I could decide on a set number of hours to work each day but be flexible about when they happened? I considered working less, but realistically I don’t think I could or would choose to do that.

I thought about the plans we already had on the books: two camping trips and an airplane trip to Ontario. I remembered the ballet camp our daughter is attending one week, and the Clay Cafe dates I’ve promised our son.

I reminded myself of how we chose not to enroll the kids in T-ball (shudder) because we didn’t like dragging the kids to a dusty field multiple evenings a week. In order for this summer to be happier than the last one, we needed to avoid commitments that would leave us (read: me) feeling stressed out or guilty if we needed to skip a night.

In the end, I decided on a theme that was going to make our summer special: freedom.

We postponed the scheduled swimming lessons to the fall when we’re all in a more schedule-y kind of place. Instead, we bought a membership to the outdoor pool for the first time. It’s a three-minute drive or 20-minute walk from our house, which gives us the freedom to go for swims any afternoon or evening we feel like it.

On days my husband is off, I will throw myself into my work while he has fun with the kids. I will greedily soak up those hours in my cool, dark basement office, far away from sunscreen and bugs. I’ll take some of these days off and organize a family day trip, but I won’t feel guilty if this only happens once or twice.

On weeks my husband is constantly working or sleeping from working the night shift, I will decide which parts of which days I will be working, and I will stick to that. I’ll sign them up for half-day camps when I need to, or I’ll put on a movie for them if I get desperate. I’ll remind myself that summer is supposed to be a break for them, too.

I will make a point to do one meaningful activity with the kids every day, whether it’s baking together, doing a craft, going out on an adventure, or just reading a stack of books in front of a fan. But I won’t try to be a full-time Mary Poppins, constantly whipping out Pinterest-worthy activities to keep my little darlings entertained. I’ll give our kids the freedom to “be bored” and make their own fun.

I’ll also give myself the freedom to do things that I enjoy, and remember that just because it’s summer vacation doesn’t mean it’s all about the kids, all of the time. I’ll book babysitters so my husband and I can go on date nights here and there. I’ll continue to attend a couple of Zumba classes each week, and stick to my weekly evening of volunteering.

Most importantly, we’ll all go out for ice cream instead of dinner sometimes. That really is the ultimate summer freedom.

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