Between finals, prom, parties and graduation, the weeks leading up to summer can be as hectic as the start of the academic year, if not more, say members of Momster.com, Family Circle's social network. Follow these expert tips to relieve stress so you'll be ready to celebrate (and enjoy!) the big moments.
By Heather Eng
Q. "I'm expecting to pay for a class ring, a dance, an overnight trip and a yearbook—that's just the stuff I know about. I've had to shell out for damaged textbooks before, as well. What can I do to prepare for the deluge of fees?"
A. In an ideal world, you'd be sticking to a budget and have a slush fund (about three to six months' worth of overall living expenses) to tap for these payments, says Bill Losey, certified financial planner practitioner and certified retirement coach in Wilton, New York. If you're not already saving, there's no better time to start. Build your emergency stash now by putting away whatever you can.
Suppose your finances run dangerously low and you're in the midst of all the activities? "It's okay to tell kids no," says Janet E. Taylor, MD, a psychiatrist and member of the Family Circle Health Advisory Board. And don't feel guilty. "Maybe you can't buy the designer prom dress, or perhaps they'll have to carpool rather than hire a limo. But most children respond to limits and explanations. And it's never a bad idea to teach the value of a dollar." You can also assign older kids responsibility for some of their own extras. "I've told my sons that if they lose or damage their books, they are paying for them with their own funds," says Losey. "When they know it's 'their money' and not 'Dad's money' on the line, they're more careful."
Q. "One daughter is graduating from high school, so we'll be juggling college prep, scholarship applications, prom and her 18th birthday. Her little sister is finishing 8th grade, which also involves a 'promotion' ceremony and a dance. How am I going to enjoy these special times instead of worrying about everything there is to do?"
A. At least once a day, take a minute to acknowledge all the good in your life—including those events that are causing you so much anxiety, and what they represent, says Rick Foster, co-author of How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People—Their Secrets, Their Stories (Perigee Trade). Remind yourself that those are huge accomplishments to celebrate, rather than stress about. "When you stop to appreciate something, you are in the moment, and anxiety from the past and worries about the future fade," Foster says . "Even if it's a fleeting feeling of relief, you're giving yourself a break, and that may be all you need to start thinking and planning more clearly." To help yourself remember to slow down, Foster recommends putting a written reminder somewhere visible, that asks, "What's the best thing happening in my life, right now?" or "What is most wonderful about my children?" Dr. Taylor suggests jotting a few notes in a journal every time something good happens. Get the family involved, too. "Once a week, have your kids talk about what went well for them during the past few days," Dr. Taylor says. "This teaches them not to stay focused on what went wrong, but on what went right." Bonus: Spending time together enjoying what you have promotes bonding.
Q. "I'm a work-from-home business owner, so I always have to find inexpensive ways to get my kid out of my hair, several days a week. He's not keen on clubs, I don't want him playing video games all day, and while child-swapping works, it's a pain. Any new suggestions?"
A. Fire up your laptop, pull out your cell phone and start a calendar. There's no getting around it—you're going to have to do some legwork. Wallet-friendly childcare solutions exist, but they require research and planning. Start by looking around your community, suggests Michele Borba, EdD, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass). Many local libraries, parks and YMCAs offer affordable day camps and free activities throughout the summer. Network with other moms to carpool, and expand one-on-one child-swapping into a kid-watching co-op: Each mother can take four kids one day a week, leaving you free three days. "I've also seen groups of parents get together to teach hobbies," Borba says. "One mother will give cooking lessons, another mom teaches art, someone's husband goes over woodworking." If your kids are older, help them explore volunteer and employment opportunities.
Q. "Our youngest son is graduating from high school. Between college and scholarship applications, we are bombarded with paperwork and deadlines. I'm worried he'll miss an opportunity because we just didn't know what we're supposed to do! Help!"
A. Give your son guidance, but don't forget: These are his responsibilities. "Too often, we pick up the slack and do everything for our kids," says Borba. "Deadlines are huge and stressful, but the big problem is waiting until the last minute. That's when parents start nagging and taking over." Sit down with your child and map out each due date on a whiteboard or calendar. Post it in a place your kid can't ignore, like over his desk, and cross off deadlines as he meets them. If he needs more nudging, go over upcoming dates every day. "Your role is to be the guider, not the doer," says Borba. "Tell him this ahead of time, especially if you've been doing everything all along. Now, you're preparing your kid for Life 101."
Q. "My youngest child will be graduating from elementary school—I've spent more than a decade haunting its halls. Now what?"
A. Your children may be at the age where they don't want Mom around all the time, but that doesn't mean you disappear from their lives. "Middle school is when kids need us most," says Borba. These are the years when many come face-to-face with bullying, sexting, cliques and dating—issues that may not have been on the radar in grade school—so it's important to stay on top of what's going on. Use the tech for the good. "An occasional quick text or e-mail check-in with your kid is fun and easy," says Dr. Taylor. "Also, don't forget the old-fashioned way of looking them squarely in the eye and saying, 'What's up? Anything new?' The key is to listen without judgment and touch base frequently, not just when conflicts arise. Meal times are a terrific time to share." You can also keep a pulse on what's happening by getting involved in different ways. You may have been a room mom in elementary school. Now you could volunteer at the middle school snack bar or administrative office. "Maybe you rarely even catch a glimpse of your kid, but you stay connected to her world and other mothers," says Borba. And don't forget that it's fine to loosen your grip on your kid, a little. "Healthy parenting means, on the one hand, letting go. But the more engaged you are, without overdoing, the more your kids love you," says Foster. "It shows that you believe in them and think they're on their way to being whole, capable individuals." Raising an independent child is sign that you're doing a great job.
Q. "It seems that as soon as spring rolls around, everyone starts suffering from 'I don't want to do this anymore'—including me! How can we all stay focused?"
A. It sounds like you're battling end-of-year burnout, so give yourself a break. "The key is to drop any guilt and make sure you take—and enjoy—some downtime," says Dr. Taylor. Spend an afternoon curled up with a book. Take a long walk or see a movie with a girlfriend. Once the malaise starts to lift, start tackling tasks one tiny step at a time, suggests Borba. The first day, make a list of what needs to be done—then pat yourself on the back for the small but real progress. Next day, get a calendar and map out important due dates and special occasions. Using that as your guide, try to tackle one little thing each day and cross off every task you complete. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and build your motivation and energy. And don't forget to build in regular "you" time so you don't burn out again.
Remember that when you tend to your mood and it improves, your good example could rub off on your children and maybe even shake them out of their slump. "Your kids feel whatever anxiety you have," says Dr. Taylor. "If you're nervous and overwhelmed, they will be, too. Conversely, if you're feeling positive, and share it, they'll benefit." One way to increase everybody's uplift: When they've accomplished a specific task responsibly, tell them what a good job they did.
Note: If your blues last more than two weeks, talk to your health care provider about it. You may be suffering from depression.
Q. "Our Parent-Teacher Organization always holds a luncheon for the educators the day after school lets out. I love the idea, but it's turned into a very expensive and time-consuming ordeal. Is there a tactful way I can convince everyone to scale back?"
A. "Chances are, if you feel strapped, others do, too," says Dr. Taylor. So don't be afraid to speak up and share your concerns with other members. If the thought of going up against the group alone makes you uneasy, find like-minded moms who can back you up, suggests Borba. To sell your point, come up with ideas on how you can trim without altering the spirit of the occasion: Turn a catered or restaurant affair into a more personalized potluck, or give teachers cards signed by all their students instead of pricey presents. "It's easy to get caught up in the hype, but it's important to take a step back and assess your budget and priorities," says Dr. Taylor. In the end, it's the gesture that matters—whether you spent $15 or $150.
Q. "The other students in my kids' private school attend summer classes, and the teachers pressure me to sign mine up, too. I pay a lot of money to provide my children with a good education. Why can't I give them a few weeks off?"
A. Go ahead and let your kids take a break. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with downtime—in fact, kids need it," says Dr. Taylor. But check in with your child's teacher before classes end, to make sure she's not falling behind in anything, suggests Borba. If she is, get a few recommendations about what she can do to catch up over the summer. "Be prescriptive to your child and then build in the F-U-N," says Borba. For a child who needs reading help, start a book club with other kids and parents, plan reading nights under the stars or designate an hour each day when your whole family turns off the TV and opens up novels, instead. Just don't go overboard. This is the time for kids to decompress, so by all means, make sure they have some lazy, hazy days to savor, too.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.