The summer of 'Yes'
It's easy for parents to get caught up in the day-to-day. Business and life coach Sarah Courtney shares her personal list of how she plans to stay in the moment
After the longest winter of all time, the summer holidays seem to have arrived out of the endless rain and it has made me think, right, what do I want to get out of this summer? What can I do differently to make things a little bit more fun?
As for most of us with young families, and certainly from what my clients describe, life is busy and we all seem 'time poor'. It's so easy as parents to get caught up in a hamster wheel of rushing out the door in the morning to get to school and work, planning playdates, playing sport, doing homework, attempting healthy dinners, staying on top of housework, wondering can we get away with one more day without washing hair… the list goes on.
My eldest, who is six, has taken to doing those written and numerical workbooks off her own bat. Like, for fun. You know the ones you absent-mindedly throw in to the trolley at the supermarket. And I'm so busy doing 'stuff', I am aware that I never seem to have time to sit with her and encourage her to keep going.
My three-year old is a ball of wild… could be wildly happy or wildly angry… no one knows from one minute to the next, and it just feeds into the general chaos of the house. Little people, little problems, I know, but I'm conscious that they won't be like this forever and I'd like to make these young years less frantic and more pleasant. Weeks can go by so quickly and sometimes we look back and wonder where the quality family time was.
Coaching isn't about telling. It's about exploring what is right for the client, as they know themselves best. Below is the plan I have made for my personal circumstances. Some of these might resonate with you and you might like to try them for yourself, or indeed my list may make you look at your own set up a little differently and might spark a different path.
For me, the goal of my 'summer of yes' is to slow down a little, stay present and truly prioritise what matters most. So here goes:
1 Meal choice: Once a day they will get their say on what they have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. We've worked really hard to make sure they eat well but sometimes I feel like a broken record prompting them to eat their vegetables. Over the summer I'm going to offer them a little more freedom. It won't mean chocolate for breakfast, but it will mean that rather than me just automatically pouring them a bowl of something, they can have control over which of the typical breakfast options they want. None of us like being told what to do all the time and this seems like a reasonably simple way to help them feel more independent.
2 Activity choice: At the ages of six and three, every game starts with a set of instructions so complicated they would make your eyes water. But I know that when I just dive in that they absolutely love it. And that's the whole point for me. Recently, for example, I found out I can still do a handstand. Who knew? So once a day I will do whatever it is they want to do, even if I feel silly, bored or tired. Even if it's just 15 minutes, I will commit to giving them this time. I'm curious to see where that will take us.
3 Tech: For July and August, there will be no pointless scrolling on Facebook at puppies I don't know. No mindlessly checking Twitter in case I'm missing out. I'm also going to take my rule of 'no tech at the table' a little further and actually put the phone somewhere else during meal times where we can't all hear the non-stop notifications.
I find a break from tech is essential in order to help me stay present and to fully relax. My daughter drew a lovely picture recently of a day the two of us went for a quick wander on the beach. I had accidentally left my phone at home that day and she drew the picture a few weeks afterwards. It really stuck in her head even though it was such a simple thing to do, and I'm pretty sure it was because I didn't have my phone in my hand and I was 100pc with her.
4 Work: Work will slow down over the summer as clients take well-earned breaks, but I have decided that even if it doesn't, I am going to prioritise my children's needs over my personal wish to grow my business. I will only work when the kids are elsewhere. I am self-employed, so I want and need to be responsive, but I choose to balance quality time with my children with my desire to know 24/7 what is going on with my clients. That will be tough, but worthwhile.
See, I work because I love it and it's really hard to make myself stop. But one of the reasons I set up my own coaching business was for it to fit well around family time, and if I don't practice what I preach, then who am I kidding? I believe the break from the normal routine will ignite new ideas and projects to get stuck into in the autumn.
5 I'm making a 'Not To Do' list: You know those behaviours you regret, realising your day could have gone better if you had chosen better? Like starting three tasks at once and not getting any of them fully finished. Or saying "I'll be with you in a minute, I'm just getting this done" to the kids and an hour passes and you still haven't gone back to them.
I see the difference in my children's behaviour when I give them the whole of my attention even for short bursts of time. At their age, it's getting easier for them to amuse themselves and it can be tempting to let them get on with it, but I want to consciously spend quality time with them and I think it's important for them to know that even when I am busy, they matter. Another thing on my 'not to do' list is not to cram every hour of every day with things. Sometimes we will just have downtime, because this is about slowing down.
Now being very honest, I am nervous for what the summer holds. I'll be with the kids more than usual and I know I am not cut out to be at home all the time, so in addition to my plan, I will also be practicing some self-care. The summer of yes isn't about trying to be a perfect or popular parent, its simply using some downtime to see what small changes I can make to cherish the time when they are so young.
You see, we all have 24 hours in the day and we can all choose where we put our time and attention. Of course we have commitments that control our day, but when we get caught up in the busyness of life, we miss out on so much.
I'm fed up of saying no and I want my daughters to remember fun summers, a mum that was genuinely present when she was at home, and to feel like they have some control over their lives.
For anyone reading this, I'd love to hear about what positive changes you plan to make over your summer and how they impact your family.
Sarah Courtney is a mother, coach and champion of supporting parents who want to remain in the workplace. A graduate of UCD, DIT and the Irish LifeCoach Institute, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.