Managing Summer with Two Kids and a Mood Disorder

Ahhh… summer.  Sunny weather, relaxed schedules, BBQs with friends…  what’s not to like?  It’s not that I don’t like summer, it’s just that summer with two kids and a mood disorder is scary.  Summer requires a much more concerted effort on my part to keep everything afloat.  Here are some things I do to lay the groundwork for a successful summer:  

I keep a routine.  Except sometimes not.     

In my opinion, summer camp is one of the best inventions of the modern world.  I always feel a little confused when the school year ends.  Wait… what?  They’re going to be home now?   Every day?   I may not go to work-work, but I still have a job.  My husband is out earning the paycheck that keeps the lights on, so I buy the groceries, fold the laundry, schedule the home repairs, drive the kids to their dental appointments, pickup the dry cleaning, walk the dog, and the list goes on and on.  Things things still need to be done during the summer, so I do them when the kids are at camp.  

This isn’t all I do while my kids are at camp, though.  I take naps, I attend my own appointments, I read, and sometimes I meet up with friends.  All of these things keep my mental health in check and make me a much happier person.  The time apart from my kids allows me to be a better mom when they are home.  

Our default setting for the summer is that the kids attend camp, but they don’t always.  If they need a day off, they stay home.  We still do lots of summer-y things, just not every single day.  The great thing about the summer is that there is no classwork to make up or risk of falling behind in class.  

I take care of my body.  

If I feel crappy physically, it’s really hard to feel good mentally.  During the summer it becomes extra important for me to eat real meals, exercise, get regular sleep, avoid sugar and alcohol and most of all, not overdo it.  I hate leaving tasks undone, saying no to invitations I want to accept and putting things on the back burner.  Having a mood disorder means that I don’t roll with the punches quite as easily, though, so I have to be extra careful not to overdo it.  This can be very frustrating but is very necessary.  

I get out of my shell.  

The most humbling part of parenthood has been the realization that I absolutely cannot do it alone.  Most parents learn this in about 14 seconds.  I really prefer to operate under the illusion that I have everything handled and am self-sufficient, but parenting blows this illusion out of the water.  Having kids forces me to be more social and lean on others more than I would otherwise.  My husband and I have an amazing little village of friends and family, and during the summer I depend on this village more than ever.  

I try remember that all things are temporary.  

Summer, like everything else in life, is temporary.  Living with bipolar disorder means that I live with the volume of life turned up a little higher.  I feel everything more intensely, both good and bad.  It can be hard to remember in the moment that feelings and circumstances change.  One of my favorite mantras is, “feelings are not facts”.  

Life with little kids is similarly intense.  Kids are like little unmedicated bipolar people.  It’s joy, it’s despair and it’s everything in between, often in the course of ten minutes.  It’s a rollercoaster ride that is messy, hilarious, heartbreaking, hard and wonderful.  My kids make me both laugh out loud and want to scream into a pillow every single day.  

The hardest and most important lesson I’m learning during summer, during parenting and during all of life is that it’s temporary.  My feelings, the seasons, my kids being kids… it’s all temporary.  This realization helps me chart a course that keeps everybody afloat but also allows us to have a little fun.  If this isn’t also a good strategy for life, then I don’t know what is. 

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