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What Happened When I Stopped Trying to “Do It All” This Summer

working mom letting go

It’s September, and I can officially say that I survived summer with my toddler.

My son had been out of school since May, and he wasn’t old enough for camp yet. My husband was gone for work for literally two-thirds of the summer; I used six hours of paid childcare and he spent one night at his grandparents. But I survived. We all survived.

No, not survived. Thrived.

It sounds harsh, I know, saying I survived a summer with my son, but he’s two, and I’m not very good at the whole raising a kid thing yet. I’ve always needed that extra outlet — a night off, a couple hours of preschool, work, volunteer gigs, etc. The “just being a mom” thing has never worked well for me, but when June rolled around, I knew it was time to embrace it. While I still had a to-do list a mile long (I work part-time and have other obligations and responsibilities), I couldn’t shake the whole “he’s only going to be this little once” thing. I felt guilty passing him off on someone else or hiring someone else to watch him so I could do things that, in the very long run, didn’t matter as much as the time I could spend with my rapidly growing toddler.

Last summer was a constant, endless plea for “more time” and “just a little help” and “I’m never going to get it all done woe-is-me.” I tried to do it all, and it wasn’t pretty for anyone involved. So this summer, I vowed I would do things differently. Okay, that’s a little bit of a lie. I didn’t really intentionally mean to do things differently, but I did, and we had the best summer ever.

I’ll admit there was a week where I wondered what the heck I got myself into and regretted not signing up for at least one session of summer school (I even contemplated emailing myself a note to arrive next April saying DO IT), but really, we were okay. There were frustrating days here and there, but for the most part, I enjoyed every minute of it.

My secret? Putting my non-essential responsibilities on the back burner. I stuck with my deadlines and kept my child fed and clothed (mostly clothed, anyways), but besides that, if it wasn’t essential, I didn’t stress about whether it happened or not. Does that mean I missed some opportunities to grow from a professional standpoint? Yup, absolutely. But it’s nothing I can’t try to make up for once school is in session. Nothing that I’m going to regret down the road, and nothing, and I mean nothing, that would have been better than spending time with my son. I  know it’s something that people say all the time, but really, truly spending time with my toddler was invaluable.

There’s something about just being in the moment, lost in one single summer day, that makes the whole parenting thing easier. If not exactly easy, certainly a lot better than trying to entertain a child while simultaneously working and attempting to get allthethings done. My house was a mess. Dinner was often sandwiches or whatever we could find in the back of the freezer. I didn’t accomplish any major projects and I cut quite a few deadlines close. Not because I’d suddenly become irresponsible or stopped caring, but because I was consciously choosing to instead go to the park, play hide and seek for the 8,000th time, or go on an adventure. Or best of all, just hang out and play.

Granted, I will probably be jumping for joy after I have my five minutes of sadness after dropping him off that first day of school, but right now, I’m busy reflecting on what a great summer we’ve had, how big my little boy is getting, and how lucky I am to have had this time with him.

Saying goodbye to as many nonessential tasks as I could was absolutely the only thing that let me soak up the summer in enjoyment — forgetting the to-do list, not worrying about doing things right or getting things done, and just living in the moment every day. Some days we did some really fun stuff. Other days we just stayed home and enjoyed each other’s company. It was fabulous. And ironically, letting go of all the things I had to do, allowed me to do a heck of a lot of things — just with my son by my side.

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