When I went through my Instagram feed recently, photos of toes in the sand, kids in the waves, strawberry picking, and sparkling drinks filled my eyes. Suddenly, surprisingly, those photos affected me in a new way. They made me feel overwhelmed and behind with my parenting: “Where are our summer adventures?” I thought, alarmed.
In the past, I have had a lot of fun with our Family’s Summer Bucket List. We printed it out, posted it in our hallway, marked things off—it was a project. It gave us a shared goal and forced us out of the house.
But this summer, I feel vastly different. A list, another to-do in my never-ending world of tasks and chores, makes me cringe. While one part of me envies those brave adventurers I see on Instagram, another part of me feels exhausted just watching.
So I find myself seeking a new kind of summer bucket list this year. Or, I guess you could say an anti-list.
I want a bucket list with just one single item: ENJOY. Then I want to check that one item off every day. And I want to do it without having to plan, organize, drive an hour, purchase a Groupon, map out the week, slather sunscreen every ten minutes, and peel the backs of my legs off my fiery-hot leathery car seat four times a day.
I want my family to be free to pursue whims. I want us to wake up in the morning and do what our hearts need. I want us to sit down at breakfast, eat our cereal and determine, as a family, what will fill us that day.
I want my children to feel free to suggest ideas and outings that occur to them as they discover them. Because the thing about (my very young) kids is that they don’t think in terms of three months from now. They don’t think three weeks from now. Heck, they can’t remember what they had for lunch thirteen minutes ago.
So asking them to help me craft a list of things to get us through three months ends up being an experiment in mom-overachievement only. By the end of month one, their interests and desires have already changed.
Also, my children are not nearly as excited about “new experiences” as I am. I want to continually broaden their worlds and challenge their comfort zones, but they would be happy running through the sprinkler every hot day and watching a movie every rainy one.
So why, then, am I exhausting myself every summer trying to make sure we horseback ride (horses aren’t even close to us!), go to the aquarium (also, not close to us!), and schlep through the sweaty zoo (when we have already been three times on school trips during the quite glorious spring) when they don’t really care that much? They think the best summer day is when I drive them five minutes to the local frozen yogurt shop and then walk them over to the playground they have already played on one million three hundred seventy times.
I am aiming this summer to stop my mom-overachievement tendencies and to see instead where a quieter journey takes us. I want to explore a new kind of family summer.
- What if every day was a blank page, without expectations or a list in our hallway?
- What if each day we could look in the newspaper, discover what was happening, and pursue it?
- What if we could wake up in the morning and decide that we would surprise our new friends with cupcakes?
- What would our summer look like if we didn’t make bucket-list promises that are, at their core, crafted and influenced by me?
This is not to say that we won’t be at baseball games or roasting marshmallows or growing broccoli (actually, no, we won’t be growing broccoli—that I can say). It just means that if we want to, we will. But we shouldn’t feel like we have to because we made a list.
I want to get deeper this season, and I want to value a summer when my children are still so little, when they still want to be around me, and when they are discovering what they love for themselves.
Oh, I am going to have some plans in my back pocket. I will have some activities and outings that I can use when boredom and insanity slowly set in. But I want our entire family to be in the driver’s seat every day, without some Pinterest-concocted three-month list that stares at us expectantly.
One word at the end of each day. One box to check.
QUESTION: Do you find yourself anxious and fearful that your summer won’t live up to expectations? Are you falling victim to mom-overachievement with summer bucket lists?
CHALLENGE: Give yourself and your family permission to slow down this summer, to anti-list your household, and to enjoy what life will yield if every day was a blank page. ENJOY.
Edited by Sarah Monson and Amanda Lewis.
Image from Shutterstock with graphics by Julie Finlayson.