By Terri Fedonczak
Life Coach, Parent Counselor and Author of Field Guide to Plugged-In Parenting, Even if You Were Raised by Wolves
Flowers are blooming, and birds are chirping. Bare legs are blinding us with their unearthly glow. This can only mean one thing: summer is on its way! Remember when thoughts of summer were filled with ice cream and lazy afternoons? Not anymore. Now it’s, “Mother of Pearl, what am I going to do with my kids?” That lazy afternoon turns into a horror movie, with zombie kids following you around the house whining that they’re bored. Or worse, latchkey kids calling you at work to see if they can dry the cat in the microwave. Since we can’t take off work for the summer or work in the house with screaming kids, what do we do?
When I googled Summer Child Care, I got 33,600,000 hits. Good Grief, how do we make the perfect choice? First of all, lose the idea that you can make the perfect choice, because there are no perfect choices. Parenting is a job where you’re building the plane as you fly it. That being said, here are a few tips for making the right choice for YOUR family.
- First, calm yourself: This decision produces fear, because there are so many options—or your options are limited. Both stories produce stress in the thinker. Remember, they are just stories. You will make much better decisions from a place of calm. When you feel the stress levels rising, take three deep belly breaths. Right now, put your palm on your belly button and breathe slowly and deeply so that you make your hand move outward. Then do that two more times. Feel your pulse rate drop and your shoulders come out of your ears. Doesn’t that feel better?
- Treat the problem like a puzzle or a mystery with you as lead detective: We make much better decisions when we engage our creative mind to help us sort through options. When we are stressed out, we are in fight or flight mode. All of our blood is in our extremities, preparing us to do battle or to flee, so our brain can’t work properly. If you can treat this decision like a puzzle with a solution that you just can’t see yet, then you can get creative without feeling overwhelmed. Assemble the clues or pieces of the childcare puzzle, and then put on your creative hat to find the solution that works best for your family.
- Ask for help: This is where your friends and co-workers can step in to help. Ask them what they are doing with their kids this summer. If they aren’t knowledgeable, go to your school’s guidance counselor or your church’s child care program to ask for recommendations. Ask your boss about the possibility of summer hours; you will never know until you ask. Go in armed with a plan that benefits your boss as well, and then release the outcome. Your boss will be more open to options if you’re not needy and desperate when you ask.
- Use baby steps: This is a big decision, and it may seem overwhelming. Use baby steps to acquire the necessary information to make an informed choice. A baby step is the most ridiculously easy step you can take in the next 5 minutes. Set your phone alarm for 5 or 10 minutes while you search for “summer child care options” on the internet or make a phone call to a friend. When the alarm goes off, bookmark or jot down the options, and then stop. You’re done for this baby step session. When any task feels too big, break it down into smaller steps.
- You determine when it’s okay to leave them home alone: Just because the law says that your 11 year old can stay home alone doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for you. Every kid is different. I used the guideline that when my kid was old enough to responsibly handle baby-sitting jobs with ease, then they were ready to stay home alone. For my eldest, this was at age 11 (she could also have held down a job and planned a dinner party at 11! That’s why she now holds a big-time production job; the kid is a rock). With my middle child, it was 14, with lots of telephone supervision from me. If you’re leaving your kids at home, make sure you have a plan for check-in times as well as activities/chores for the day. Make the plan together, so that they take ownership of the decision. This will teach them independence and accountability; two things all parents want for their children.
- Use your own family values to guide you: Don’t feel pressure to be just like everyone else; do what feels right to you! If your family values are centered in creativity, sending your kid to a structured math camp is not the best choice for you, regardless of how prestigious it is. Maybe an afterschool program that focuses on art would be a better fit. Figure out what’s important to your family values, and make a decision that feels right in your gut.
If you follow the above steps, you will make the right decision for you and your kids, regardless of their age and your circumstances. Keep gathering information and asking for help, until you reach a decision that feels good to you; then accept it and move on. Waffling on a decision produces stress and wastes energy that you could be using for a higher purpose. We only have so much energy every day; wasting it by worrying is counter-productive. All we can do as a parent is to make the best decision right now given the information that we have. It won’t be perfect, because nothing ever is, but if it’s made from a calm loving place, then you and your kids will be just fine.