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.
Thank you for this! I love bucket lists…but this summer was the first time that I didn’t do one, for some of those reasons you mentioned above (nicely written by the way…my thoughts don’t seem that clear). One thing that I LOVE to do instead is to keep a blank monthly calendar on our fridge. Then AFTER we do the spontaneous, relaxing, whatever we decide to do thing- we jot it down. I have a few summers of calendars filled with what we DID do, rather than a long list of what we didn’t do and wish we could have.
Allison Carter says
I love that idea, Danielle! Capturing the fun things that did happen is such a wonderful attitude.
Love this! Just last night I was racking my brain trying to figure out what super fun thing we were going to do today. Finally I decided it wasn’t worth the stress and we would make plans as we go. This morning the kids wanted to go to the park, done! No planning, no stress, just fun.
Allison carter says
Yes! That’s the thing – I feel like we make it so much harder on ourselves than it has to be. Our kids just love to be with us. Thanks for this.
It took me a bit of time, but slowly and surely I am learning that my kids and I will always be happiest when I am true to myself and true to my kids. Ideas found on Pinterest should inspire us not guilt us into action. I love the idea of a summer bucket list. However, I have never made one for my family. Maybe one day. Maybe not.
Allison carter says
I agree, inspire not guilt! I love that mantra. I found that one summer a bucket list was the right fit for me on a personal level, but I realized it was about keeping myself sane! Thanks so much for the comment and for reading. I appreciate it.
I feel the same as you do when you say:
“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.”
Thanks for sharing HOW you are going about it.
We have done a bucket list the past few years and it seems like we were trying to cram everything in the last few weeks of summer! This year, we too decided to just enjoy our summer without that list hanging over our heads! My kids are still young- ages ranging from 2-8 and I have found that our best days are the ones we spend at home, where they can read books, ride bikes and play with legos. One other thing that really has made a difference is we decided NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES this summer. My kids are getting along better and definitely using their imaginations more!
Allison carter says
Oh the no electronic devices is BOLD, and I applaud you. I am always sniffing out how much is too much, when some is OK and I am so intrigued to hear of this. Keep me updated!
Well, its not really as impressive as it sounds! 🙂 We don’t have a TV and we don’t have smart phones or tablets/ipads or anything like that. We just have 1 laptop. During the school year I was letting my kids each have 20-30 minutes to watch some youtube movies or play some games. It seemed like as soon as their time was up, they were crabby and fighting with each other and begging for more time on the laptop. And you know how it goes, sometimes they were all watching a movie and I was actually getting some housework done, so I would let them keep watching even though their allotted time was up…. and then it turned into an hour…. or two…..so we decided to quit cold turkey this summer. It has been a blessing! And I should confess that we have been planning our family vacation and so this week I let them go online to “explore” some of the hotels/ parks we will be visiting. (but only online for realllly short periods of time) 🙂
For the first time in many years, there are kids the same age as our youngest two (8 and 11) in the neighborhood. The neighbor kids and my kids spend hour after hour playing store, creating secret message/codes, bumming around the neighborhood, building forts and all that good stuff. Meanwhile, the older kids have jobs and other interests too. The summer of field trips and bucket list activities is not needed. hanging out at the beach, an occasional bonfire movie night is all we need to still have the best.summer.ever
Abigail Wiest says
We are having baby number 4 this summer (mid-July) and my oldest will turn five at the end of the summer so I’ve been looking to simplify. I realized that making a “bucket-list” is just signing myself up to feel like a failure once again. But I do need a plan/routine/structure. So instead I’m trying to plan one fun thing we do a week that takes us out of the house. (The zoo, a museum, etc) and then off that list of 6 or so things we want to do we can pick one each week. None of them are going to be really involved and then on the other days I have simple “at home” plans–cooking together, the park that’s a block away, swimming at a nearby pool–but all those things are “if we want to”. I’m also working on dejunking our house this summer which means as I find toys we don’t play with getting rid of them, or the ones we have forgotten about writing down so when my kids are “bored” they can pick from the list of fun things we already have and that will feel new to them. Reducing expectations for myself is I feel one of the best ways to make summer relaxing for us all. We all know “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!”
Allison Barrett Carter says
I think this is a wonderful compromise and solution! I like having ideas at the ready, too, just in case… Thanks so much for this thoughtful comment. And happy summer!