A Chronic Mom’s Guide to Surviving the Summer
While summer seems like it should be the most relaxing time of all, a mom with Lyme or any other chronic disease can be easily overwhelmed when all the children pile out of the school bus for the last time. The stress of constant activity in the home, lack of schedule for the kids, and increased burden of providing consistent meals and constant supervision over the kids can put a mom with chronic illness into a state of exhaustion with pain that worsens by the day. In addition, travel and summer “vacations” can add so much additional stress that “vacation” begins to feel like anything other than an actual vacation.
How does a mom with chronic illness make it during these three long months? Try some of the following suggestions for surviving the summer:
1. Plan a schedule, even for the days when you don’t go anywhere. Consistent meal times, nap times, and play times help children thrive.
2. Rest when the children take naps. Don’t use that time to try to clean up or catch up. Take advantage of the opportunity to rest for a few minutes. If your children are beyond the napping age, try to incorporate a “quiet” time where everyone goes to their own rooms and reads a book, watches a movie, or plays quietly. This may enable you a few minutes of peace and quiet when nap time is a thing of the past.
3. Try to plan play dates to break up the monotony of long summer days. Plan as many indoor activities as you can, so the heat does not exhaust you and make you feel worse. Also, plan for time limits so that you do not push yourself beyond your limits.
4. If you have trouble coming up with cheap but fun activities for the kids, try the local library. They often have a full list of activities that include story and craft times. They also usually bring in fun free shows like music, magic, or crazy scientist shows.
5. Other free activities include the local pool, zoo, farmer’s markets, craft fairs, bike rides on local trails, and community center activities. Only plan what you are physically capable of doing. Don’t do something outside of your span of ability just because you know the kids will love it. This may backfire and result in a big flare-up.
6. Picnics in the park can be a fun activity you plan several times per week. Children never tire of the park, and you have the added benefit of being able to bring a blanket to rest while the kids play.
7. If you need to avoid the sun, try weekly movies at Malco theatres. These are usually scheduled on Tuesdays and Wednesdays around 12 noon and are always child friendly. The cost of movies and snacks are usually $1 each. Or try going to the indoor playground at a local fast food restaurant. If you don’t have extra money for eating out, tell the kids you are just going for ice cream cones and play time. Another free indoor idea is to take the kids to story time at a local bookstore.
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8. If you do decide to endure the outdoors for a couple of hours, plan activities in the coolest time of the day and in areas where you have lots of shade. The key here is setting time limits so you don’t overdo it. Try to schedule these outings in the morning when you (and the children) have the most energy and so you can also leave afternoons free for nap or quiet time. Bring another adult or babysitter with you to help watch the kids. Also, bringing snacks and plenty of water will help you (and the children) stay well-hydrated.
9. Plan rest days in between activity days so that you can have some recovery time. This is essential to prevent flare-ups. If you need a down day, plan a Saturday where Dad or the grandparents can take the kids to a movie or the library.
10. Be aware of your own needs, and don’t be afraid to cater to them. If you need an extra rest day or two, take one, and plan fun at-home activities. Lay a blanket down in the backyard and watch the kids play outside for a while. Plan “movies & popcorn in mom’s bed” so you can get extra rest time. Bring the ipad’s out and let the kids play games for a couple of hours. Don’t feel guilty about catering to your needs. If you don’t, you won’t be able to care for your children well. Don’t be afraid to hire a babysitter and sleep for a few hours while she plays with the kids if you need to. By being creative, you can still create fun for the kids while you get the down time you need.
11. Go to bed when the kids do so you can be ready for another day. Don’t clean when the kids go to bed. REST!
12. Incorporate cleaning into a children’s activity during the day. Sing Barney’s “Clean Up” song as loud as you can. The kids will think they are having fun and never realize they are actually cleaning the house. If your kids are older, assign chores and let them begin taking responsibility for helping take care of the house.
13. If you have older kids, consider giving them a daily list of things to do, which includes both chores and fun things to do. Some fun things to add to the list are: reading a book, watching a movie, playing a game, and riding your bike. You can also add character-building activities like doing something nice for someone else in the family. Other inexpensive, fun things to do with the older kids include cooking contests (recreating cooking show contests), movie marathons, or contests with board or electronic games.
14. If you are going on vacation and will be traveling, alternate rest days with activity days and never forego nap/quiet time. Rest will be essential to your being able to enjoy yourself (and it will help the kids be less cranky, too). Plan, plan, plan so that you know what activities you will do on what days, what restaurants are close by, and where a local urgent care is (just in case). Don’t be afraid to take a few hours (or even a day—gasp!) at the hotel by yourself. Let Dad have an afternoon/day with the kids at the local bookstore and/or McDonald’s with the kids. Bring ipad’s and children’s music/movies in the car to keep the kids busy during long travel. Purchase some dollar store toys for the car rides that you can pull out at a moment’s notice if you sense a melt-down coming on.
Remember that you only need to do the best with what you have this summer. You don’t have to be supermom. Do whatever works well for your family, except for allowing the kids to have constant screen time every day. Research is showing that constant screen time is contributing to academic delays, self-control and aggression issues, anxiety and depression, and health problems and obesity. Current recommendations include no more than two hours per day for both children and teens.
By incorporating the above ideas into your summer plans, you will be setting yourself up for a successful summer break with your family. Prioritizing your health needs and including them in your plans will prevent flare-ups and help you to enjoy your time with the children. Have a great summer, mom!
Source: Strasburger VC, Jordan, AB, Donnerstein E. Health Effects of Media on Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2010;125(4):756-767. PMID: 20194281 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20194281.
Laurie Miller is an author wife, mom, registered nurse, and patient with chronic illness. She enjoys spending time with family, reading, and blogging at godlivingwithchronicillness.com. Join her at www.facebook.com/godlivinggirls for an upcoming women’s online study on “Finding Joy and Purpose in Chronic Illness” starting Feb 1, 2016. Contact her at email@example.com to join.