For the first half of this past summer, I chose to do Mommy Camp which is an alternative option for summer camps and is done at home by mom. Even though I work throughout the year, I made sure to adjust my schedule so that I could spend time with my children. However, juggling my children (who I love) and work (which I also love) is just that: a juggling act. So, with a long list of things I have to do which include (but are not limited to) taking care of the kids, handling a business and caseloads, taking care of myself, making dinner, cleaning up, and attending to a parent or sibling in need…how was I to handle this juggling act?
Here is how our routine went. I woke up at 5:30 am to start my day, and I let the boys sleep. I saw clients from 7:30 am to 10:30 am. During that time, the boys woke up, went and studied with older boys in the neighborhood, and did their prayers. The boys and I met at 10:30 am, and for the rest of the day, we spent time together doing various activities such as shopping, eating snacks, going to the pool, visiting a farm, or going to the mountains.
It’s stressful to feel that you’re not doing things right then and there, but it’s important to remember that it’s normal to feel stressed and that you’re not alone. There were days when I hadn’t planned what to do beforehand (Rule #1 of Mommy Camp) like the day I came from my morning sessions with clients to be greeted by two hungry boys who each wanted to do something different for the afternoon activity (going to the pool or a mining museum).
Even though there’s plenty of advice out there for stressed parents, here are some tips that I personally found that worked for my own children as well as many of the families in my private practice:
- Include your children in any part of your day that they would enjoy. For example, letting them talk on the phone or in person with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, or any family member. Afterwards, you can talk with that family member about private issues you need to discuss.
My parents and nephews spoke to my boys many mornings and evenings over the summer. My mother, who desperately wanted to spend time together, came with us to the Brooklyn Bridge Park where she enjoyed our company and the boys went biking.
- Take an hour or two off of work every other week or so to run errands or have time for yourself. This can be helpful to allow for more focused attention at home.
There were times when I hired a nice teenage boy to do summer homework with my boys or when I drove them to a family member’s place to watch them for a few hours while I took care of household responsibilities or a personal agenda.
- Reserve ten to twenty minute slots with your children. Give them touch, eye contact, smiles, connections, and of course, love. You can also incorporate rhythm into that time such as singing together, dancing together, or jumping on the trampoline while singing a rhythmic song.
- Set a timer for when you’ll be available, and stick to it! I always try to make a schedule beforehand and go over it with the boys so they know when I will be available for them. I also set a timer on my phone so that I know what will be next and what I have to do later, but I also made a disciplined effort to shut off my phone whenever I was with the boys so that I can give them my undivided attention.
- Plan activities. Divide the day between things you need to take care of and doing an exercise activity with the children such as biking, hiking, sledding, or swimming. Giving the children intervals of active play and sedentary or alone play will help them feel satiated while you are not available for them. One day, the boys and I hiked up Bear Mountain…or rather rock climbed up! That counted as two days of exercise in my book.
- Use distractions. When all else fails, engage and involve them in a new art project or activity you would have saved for a different occasion. You can use an activity that they could do on their own while you are in need of some space.
Baking using a mix or an easy recipe is always a fun activity. Yes, there will be a mess, and that’s okay! The kids will gain experience while you have some time for yourself. It’ll get cleaned up eventually. If not by you, it will be by them!
When you feel stressed in trying to juggle the responsibilities in your life, it does not mean that you are less able or capable. You are enough, and your children are enough. Like the real act of juggling, it takes practice, patience, encouragement and support from family and friends, and of course, love and dedication.