10 Lessons I've Learned from 10 Years of Summer Holidays as a Working Mum
This year marks ten years of juggling work and summer holidays as a mum.
And I’ve been reflecting on that rollercoaster ride – it’s been filled with challenges, laughter, tears and plenty of valuable life lessons.
As I sit back and reflect on a decade of summers as a mother, I thought I’d share with you the ten most profound lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Because as the saying goes, our children can be our greatest teachers if we are humble enough to receive their lessons.
So here are mine:
- Set Expectations Wisely
The wise Brene Brown once said that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. I remember my first holiday as a mother when my son was 6 months old. I was tired and depleted. I’d been looking forward to having some replenishment time. What I hadn’t learnt at that point was holidays with children aren’t necessarily relaxing and replenishing. I began to reset my expectations that holidays are now about ‘making memories’, not about rest!
As someone who often has high expectations, if I’m not careful, these can trip me up. I’m too busy chasing the extraordinary things that I can miss the beauty of the ordinary.
Scrolling through social media can heighten our expectations of what our holidays should look and be like. It can leave us feeling inadequate. We start comparing our behind-the-scenes real life with someone else’s highlight reel. But remember, you are seeing curated highlights, not the full picture.
I’ve come to realise that expectations and the attachment to specific outcomes can cause suffering – disappointment, resentment, frustration.. If, like me, you find it difficult to surrender completely and have no expectations (we’re not Buddhist monks even if we try), then I encourage you to choose your expectations wisely.
How do you set wise expectations?
- Be realistic – you can be aspirational too but make sure they’re grounded in realism.
- Reflect on your values – focus on what matters most to you
- Focus on what you can control
- Avoid unhelpful comparisons
- Be prepared
For several years, the summer kind of took me by surprise as a mum.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know the time of the year or couldn’t read a calendar! It was more that I underestimated what they’d involve.
So when my calendar started to get booked up with sports days, summer fayres and end-of-term celebrations, I’d get twitchy.
I hadn’t created the white space for these extra activities.
I hadn’t geared myself up for the additional mental load of managing children and the summer.
For some reason, I did expect it when it came to Christmas. But not the summer.
Now I know when I look at my year that I need more flexibility and whitespace across the summer. So I plan for it.
I’ve created more systems, structure *and* support to navigate the summer holidays.
- Downregulate my nervous system
See the point above about holidays with children not being relaxing and replenishing!
I remember reading a quote that said, ‘Parents don’t really go on vacation; they just look after their children in a different place!’ and it struck me.
Yes, holidays are lovely.
Yes, you’re very lucky if you’ve got the means to afford to get away from home.
Yes, they create lovely memories and experiences for the family.
But if you’re in parent mode, you’re still carrying the mental load that goes along with keeping your family ticking over.
It was after my experience of burnout that I realised I may need a holiday to recover from a holiday! That doesn’t mean booking a child-free exotic beach holiday (as lovely as that might be); in reality, it means booking in moments of replenishment.
My burnout was created by adrenal fatigue (AKA – HPA Dysfunction), where my nervous system had become stuck in fight-and flight mode. This taught me to pay attention to my nervous system.
And the summer holidays have a way of activating my nervous system – probably exacerbated by my need for introvert time. I find the summer holidays overstimulating:
- The activities
- The adventures
- The socialising
- The additional mental load
To downregulate my nervous system, I try to build in micro-moments of replenishment.
For me, this means:
- Solo early morning dog walks over the summer holidays – those early morning peaceful walks in the countryside ground me
- Sipping my morning coffee before the rest of the family wakes up – I get to be with my own thoughts before everyone wants to hijack them
- On vacation, I get up and do some yoga either on the balcony or on the beach before the kids get up – again, the time alone before parenting 24/7 helps keep me in balance.
It will probably look like something different for you. Whatever it might be. Whatever your resources, please try to create those micro-moments to downregulate your nervous system when and where you might need it.
- Embrace the Art of Flexibility
If you’re the default parent in your family, then you’re likely to be the flex point.
When you’re the flex point in your family, it requires a considerable amount of flexibility.
Summer holidays can be unpredictable, especially when kids are involved. From last-minute changes in plans to unexpected tantrums, it’s essential to embrace the art of flexibility.
It wasn’t until I became a mother that I realised how rigid I can be in my approach. I’m a “I want to get from A to B in the quickest and most efficient way possible” kind of woman.
Anyone who’s a parent will know that getting from A to B in a straight line is not only unlikely when you have children, but it is pretty damn impossible.
So motherhood has taught me that being able to flex my thinking and approach is vital. The more I feel under pressure, the more rigid I can become. This limits my ability to adapt appropriately in the moment.
Embracing flexibility requires me to calm my nervous system (see lesson3!) just as muscles are more flexible when they’re relaxed. So am I!
So I have to consciously remind myself to go with the flow, knowing that some of the best memories are born out of spontaneity.
- Prioritise Quality over Quantity
I remember my summer holidays fondly as a child. My mum created some really magical moments and memories. But because she was a stay-at-home mum, it’s been easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking those magic moments are created by being there for my children all of the time.
As a working mum, time can feel like a scarce commodity.
During the summer holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to fit every activity whilst also trying to keep the wheels turning on your work.
I’ve learned that prioritising quality over quantity is the key to truly savouring those precious moments with my family.
Plus, if I’m honest, I’m not at my best when I’m constantly with my family.
I need time to be in my professional identity.
So I’m embracing quality, not quantity, time with my family.
- Share the mental load
Preparing for a summer holiday can easily trip me into superwoman mode.
I remember the first holiday I took with my son when he was a baby – the underlying anxiety I felt about what to pack, how we were going to travel with a baby, and how I was going to cope with changing his routine. I turned into a crazy woman.
When we checked in at the airport, and the passenger check-in assistant tried to change my carefully laid out plans, I laugh now, remembering how my assertive superwoman kicked in. She even asked if I worked for the airline as I’d done so much research about what I could and couldn’t do!
What I realise now is how vulnerable I felt in those moments and how much I’d taken on so much responsibility to get it all right and do it all myself.
I now sit down with my family, we map out a plan together and I consciously ask for the help I need. Summer holidays are not meant to be solely the responsibility of one person (even if my superwoman tries to take charge).
I’ve learned that delegating tasks and sharing responsibilities with my husband and children foster a sense of teamwork and togetherness. Everyone can pitch in to make the holiday enjoyable for everyone – it helps that they’re now at an age when they can pitch in.
The summer holidays create an additional mental and domestic load. Seeking support from those around you to manage this is important. Don’t let your superwoman take the driving seat. It will leave you feeling exhausted and a little crazy (like I was).
- Digital Detox
With smartphones and constant connectivity, I’ve far too easily gotten lost in the digital world, even on family vacations.
In the early days of my business, I would take my laptop on holiday. Up until a few years ago, I was the only person in my business, so felt it was important to keep an eye on my inbox or keep things moving forward even when on holiday.
Even since building a team around me, I’ve felt the pull of social media to document my special moments. If I’m honest, to seek validation and that dopamine hit from other people…… even when I know how unhelpful this is.
The more I can focus on my digital wellbeing with my children, the better I’m able to show up for them consciously in those quality moments.
Turning off notifications and immersing myself in the present moment has made my summer holidays more meaningful.
- Set Boundaries
The summer creates some interesting ‘nuances’ to navigate as a working mum:
- Appropriate and affordable childcare if your children are school-age
- Having enough holiday entitlement if you’re employed
- A different routine for this season
It’s all too easy to feel like work is intruding on your personal life. Or your personal life is negatively impacting your work.
Finding the right work-life balance (if that even exists) can be challenging.
Maybe you’re someone who likes to be able to integrate your work and life.
Maybe you’re someone who likes to be able to compartmentalise your work and life.
Whatever your situation and challenges, setting boundaries will be your friend for the summer (and beyond).
Be honest with yourself about how and when you can show up professionally.
Be honest with yourself about how and when you can show up as a parent.
Test this out with a trusted friend – this prevents over-optimism and superwoman from taking over. I say this from personal experience!
Communicate with your family, friends, employer, colleagues and clients.
- Remember, it’s just a season
It can feel like the summer holds as much pressure as Christmas for mothers.
There’s almost this societal expectation that we have to do it all amazingly if we’re a good enough mum, especially if we see what other mums are doing on social media.
The idea of having only 18 summers with our children can create unnecessary pressure and unrealistic expectations. So let’s release the pressure of counting summers and, instead, remember it’s just a season.
Just as Mother Nature knows, the seasons bring their own characteristics – each with their own gifts and challenges – let’s remember that too.
Life is filled with countless opportunities for making memories and strengthening the bond with our children. The love, care, and support we provide extend far beyond the summers. It’s the everyday moments, big and small, that truly shape our relationships with our children.
- Know that each year will be different
Just as it feels like I’ve found my feet as a working mother across the summer, things change.
What worked one year hasn’t worked the next year.
My children are a different age.
My circumstances are different.
It reminds me of the quote, “This too shall pass.”
Life is in a constant state of flux – both positive and negative circumstances are temporary.
So if you’re having an amazing summer this year – embrace it! As “this too shall pass.”
If you’re having a challenging summer this year – remember, “This too shall pass.”
I’ve embraced the flexibility of doing things differently from one year to the next.
That requires me to be intentional about:
- what I need
- what my family needs
- what my work needs.
And sometimes you don’t know what you need until you’re knee-deep in the moment!
I suppose that’s the ever-changing nature of life….and motherhood.
As I wrap up this journey through the last ten years of summer holidays, I hope these lessons resonate with you and remind you that you’re not alone in your experiences.
I would love to hear what your lessons have been navigating the summer holidays as a mother.
I’ll be over here trying to embrace the beauty of this season in all its glorious imperfectness!
P.S. In Lesson 2, I share the importance of getting prepared. As you know, I’m all about making your life easier as a working mum, so here are two resources I’ve created to make your summers that bit easier: