So, I am a self confessed struggler of summer holidays – I find it extremely stressful and I really do find it hard to understand why. I only have one child, and she is generally quite well behaved. I don’t actually work at the moment. I have help. My husband is around. I am extremely fortunate. Yes, we have pets – probably a few too many, and I am a generally busy person. In fact it is impossible for me not to be busy. I always want to be productive or making progress – failure to do so, makes me feel like I’ve failed! And therein probably lies the cause!
Knowing what was to come, I decided this year to try and plan. That works to a certain extent, but the best laid plans seldom come to pass, and unexpected things crop up. Family members need support, we’ve all had colds, and now one of our guinea pigs and pitched up with an abcess the size of a plum! But that’s life right!
Over and above just planning this year, which for us involves doing a nice big funky wall chart, I decided to have what touchy feely people would call a ‘mindful’ summer holiday! Sounds like I’m making a very big deal of things I know, but on top of the guilt I feel at my little girl not getting my full attention while I’m dealing with household chores, when my patience gets tried, I don’t want to be piling the ‘shouty mummy’ guilt on top of that! So I decided to try and identify the ‘pressure points’ and either deal with them consciously or avoid them!
First on my list was the realisation that my busy mind has so much to remember first thing in the morning that I seldom finish one task before I go on to another. I nearly always forget to feed myself, having fed two dogs, two guinea pigs, 6 chickens, and oh yes, a child. I am always in a rush. I tend to start at least one other task before I finish another because I just don’t myself not to forget to do the subsequent task or tasks!
A lot has been written recently about mental workload – here’s one article that struck a cord with me – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mental-workload-of-a-mother. It basically refers to the vast quantity of minutiae that so many of us looking after children/families have to deal with. The breadth of what we need to be thinking about makes it hard for the brain to process and cope effectively – we feel constantly overloaded. To a ‘man’ every woman I know has breathed a huge sigh of relief on hearing of this phenomena, and knowing that there is an explanation for their constant mental exhaustion.
So tactic number 1 for me this holiday has been to write a list of everything I need to do in the first hour of the day as my first task.
Some of the tasks are beyond obvious – clean my teeth, have breakfast – but it can also include calling the dentist, an electrician or feeding the chickens. I then do them in the order they are on the list. And I don’t move on to the next one until the previous one is done!
I can tell you, it has made a massive difference. My mind is much calmer. I feel less stressed. I take 2 minutes to write the list, and I know that I won’t forget anything. I also know that I will complete the list (with a following wind) in a relatively sensible order, and that I can get my daughter to engage and help in the whole process. Of course it doesn’t always go according to plan – but it has certainly helped!
Tactic number 2 involves some discipline! ie. Going to bed early so that I can get up early!
I’ve also found that it is 100% worth getting up early and dealing with any nagging ‘outstanding emails’ – otherwise you’ve got them on your mind all day! Every time a reminder pops up on your phone, a little bit of a stress peak happens! Get it out of the way, one less stress bump in your day! I function 100% better in the morning in any case.
Tactic number 3 involves incentivising my daughter to just be that little bit more co-operative – to try and get her to need asking one less time to do something!
So we have adopted the system they use at school – pasta points! We have a jar which is marked up with 2cm graduations. For every 2cm of the jar she fills with pasta she gets £2 for her holiday money. We made a list of things together for which she earns ‘pasta points’. It ranges from 10 pasta points for getting herself ready to go out without being nagged, to 2 pasta points for cleaning her teeth without being asked! It’s fun and she feels motivated to think for herself.
Of course, there are absolutely never enough hours in the day, and I am still constantly finding myself taking a deep breath. But my mind feels clearer, things seem manageable and I can calm down a lot quicker! I even found myself believing I could actually start to look forward to the holidays in future, because as my daughter grows up, she and I are becoming more of a team – she is certainly a pleasure to be with. But six weeks is long enough..know what I mean?