IT’S NOT WORKING. The kids and I can’t seem to get through a day without rubbing each other raw.
I’m sure you can’t relate at all. I’m sure your summer days have been full of contented self-entertainment, voluntarily completed chores, and sibling affection.
But just in case, I’m going to pretend you know what I’m talking about when I say we’re surviving, but that’s it. I’m not okay with that, and I’m guessing you’re not, either.
The way I see it, we have two choices. We can (1) rigidly stick with our initial plan, despite its daily frustrations, and hope to go on surviving, or (2) make some adjustments and take a step on the path of intentionality.
How ’bout we go with Option 2?
Step 1 to Moving Beyond Just Surviving Summer: Identify the Hot Spot
If you have done much hiking, you’re familiar with hot spots. They’re the places you first notice some friction. The side of your big toe. The back of your heel. If you let them go, hot spots turn into full-blown eruptions of pain.
In the context of summer mothering, those eruptions occur most often around 4:30 p.m. The witching hour. Children crying, mom yelling, neighbor kids running home in terror. I know of which I speak.
To avoid these eruptions (or whatever your worst self looks like in the heat of a raw summer day), we have to backtrack and find the hot spots. When and how did the friction start?
For me, the biggest hot spot begins with my morning office work. Specifically, with trying to get my morning office work finished whilst being interrupted every 1.7 minutes to “look at how cute the dogs are” or settle a debate about whether or not this strawberry does, in fact, look like a troll.
All month, this frustration (constant interruptions for trivial reasons) has been a tipped domino that knocks down the rest of my day. By the time my work hours are over, I’m so stressed and frustrated by how little I accomplished that summoning emotional energy to connect with the kids is nigh unto impossible.
Cue irritable afternoon. Cue eventual eruption.
Step 2 to Moving Beyond Just Surviving Summer: Ask Questions
What’s at the core of this hot spot? There could be multiple factors:
- Differing Expectations: Are you expecting one thing from the day and your kids another? (During my work hours, I expect the kids to focus on their chores, reading, and creative time. Do they have the same expectation?)
- Unspoken Emotional Needs: Is there a deeper need behind an undesirable behavior? (Assuming my kids understand my need to work, are they interrupting because they feel lonely? Unseen? Insecure?)
- Conflicting Natural Rhythms: We’re all primed for some activities in the morning, and others later in the day. What does that look like for you and your kids? (Is my natural rhythm, which leans toward solitude and mental focus first thing in the morning, conflict with the kids’ rhythms, which lean toward connection?)
- Unrealistic Goals: Are you trying to squeeze more out of a day than is manageable, considering the circumstances? (Am I asking too much of my kids and myself with the time — and the concentration level — I have to work with?)
These questions should help you get beneath the emotional surface of the hot spot to understand its roots, which will in turn help you troubleshoot from a calmer, more objective place.
For instance, I can see that my kids are craving connection first thing in the morning. That might not be good for productivity, but it’s good for relationship. And I’d much rather be interrupted in my office work than have kids who feel like they can’t come to me. So unless I’m going to lock them out of my work space (I’m not), it’s unrealistic for me to expect to be as productive and efficient working at home as I would be at the office.
That being said, I do need to meet my work responsibilities, and my kids are old enough to understand and respect my need to work with fewer interruptions. It’s reasonable to ask them to show more restraint during morning office hours. So, the solution to this hot spot should involve compromise — more connection from me, and more restraint from them.
Step 3 to Moving Beyond Just Surviving Summer: Tweak the Routine
I’ve been buying men’s sneakers since I was a teenager. My large feet make it impossible to find decent women’s shoes without custom ordering, so when I find a pair of men’s sneakers that fit well and aren’t overly masculine, I’ll buy more than one pair at a time. But even though the pairs are virtually identical, it’s common for some shoes to rub in places others don’t.
My point is, don’t underestimate the power of small differences. If you’re feeling hot spots in your summer routine, that doesn’t mean your whole schedule has to change. Try a minor course correction. Experiment for a few days, and don’t be afraid to keep pivoting.
This is something I’m trying to do better. I’m generally an all-or-nothing person, so it’s easier to throw out a plan and start from scratch than try to make small changes. But this week I’ve taken my own advice, and it’s already helping SO MUCH.
Here are two small ways I’ve tweaked our routine.
Have a morning check-in. My kids have been getting up at different times, mostly after I’ve begun working. Because they’re all independent enough to get breakfast and read their chore list (moms of littles, this will be a thing one day, I promise), it’s easy for our first real interaction of the day to be me emerging from my office to break up a sibling squabble. Not great for connection.
This week I’ve tried taking a short break when each of them wakes up. I say good morning, chat for a couple minutes, and remind them that I’ll be working until 11 and need to concentrate. I’m tackling small activities in that first hour of work and saving deeper projects for later, knowing I’ll need to step away several times during the kids’ wake-up time. It’s not ideal for productivity, but those few moments of connection seem to be helping all of us.
Look them in the eye. Inevitably, I will be interrupted. Hopefully less than before, but it will happen. This is part of being a mom. I don’t want it to be something I resent, nor do I want my kids to feel unseen or unwelcome.
When they come into my office, I’m trying to give them my full attention. Fingers off the keyboard, my eyes on their eyes, ears open to what they need or want. This doesn’t mean I’m inviting them to hang out and chat to their hearts’ content. I’m still frequently reminding them that I need to get back to work. But I’m listening first, and responding to them instead of dismissing them.
Am I still getting frustrated? Of course, sometimes. But not as much, partly because looking for the root of the hot spot acted as a heart check, and partly because my kids are interrupting me less. They’re also squabbling less and focusing on constructive pursuits more. It’s amazing what a little intentional connection can do.
If you and your kids are experiencing hot spots this summer, I hope this exercise helps you identify some practical steps you can take to soothe the friction. I would absolutely love to hear what that looks like for you.
Where are your hot spots? What are you discovering about their roots? And how are you tweaking your routine to lessen the friction?
This article originally appeared here.