Create a life you don’t need a vacation from. The first time I heard this, I thought, “There is no way this applies to me.” Full-time provider, often solo mom to three boys, an ambitious multi-tasker, planner of all family events, round-the-clock problem solver and emotional supporter of a house full of people. There was just no way.
But then I couldn’t help but wonder: what if it could apply? It sounded too sweet to not at least give it a shot.
I’ve come a long way on this journey of building a life I don’t need a vacation from. I would even say that I am almost there. Here are five simple changes I made in my life to get there:
1. I started saying “YES” when others offered to help.
I truly underestimated the expression “it takes a village.” Accepting help from others made me feel like I failed, like I was letting everyone know that I couldn’t do it all alone. Once I started saying yes to every offer that came my way, something amazing happened. My children starting learning so much about the world by spending time with others. They experienced new foods from our neighbors, they learned some Spanish after spending weekends with Costa Rican friends, they were exposed to different religions, cultures, and family situations. Regular sleepovers at Grandma’s gave them the pleasure of individual attention and an unmatchable bond developed. Research shows this benefits Grandma as well: grandparents who spend more time with their grandchildren live longer than those who don’t! The next time someone offers to take your children from you, say yes and do everyone a favor.
2. I stopped explaining myself.
I used to feel hurt and upset when people questioned my parenting decisions. One thing we as moms never run out of is unsolicited advice. From social media, family, friends, neighbors and teachers; either directly or indirectly, it comes. One day, I stopped replying to messages that questioned decisions I made for my family. If someone insists during a conversation, I now say this is what works best for my family and change the subject. Once again, something incredible happened; the unsolicited advice nearly stopped, and most importantly, the heaviness that came with it began to fade. It was a game changer when I recognized that the opinion of others has nothing to do with me and my abilities to raise amazing children. No one knows the people and the dynamics within my home better than I do. I started to have confidence in that, let that realization guide me, and trust that it’s enough.
3. I invented a new day of the week.
When my boys were about three, five, and seven, I often felt trapped. My whole world revolved around work and caring for them. I had no time for my hobbies or any form of self-care. I decided to implement “Free For All” days! The rules of Free For All days are simple: every Sunday, you can do whatever you want under the condition that you can do it all by yourself. Core house rules still apply, like no screaming and no punching your brother in the face. One day I painted for 12 hours straight, no interruptions! And you know what? Everyone survived. Not only that, but Sunday soon became everyone’s favorite day. A day to listen to your heart, to be as creative, as lazy or as alone as you need to be. The expectation-free and laid-back vibe that rules on our favorite day soon became something I look forward to all week.
4. I redesigned our definition of normal.
I began to think about the many rules I was enforcing in the house. Most were based on what I was taught was normal or because I was worried about what people might think. For instance:
Old normal #1: Every meal must be taken together around a table. Rushing home from work to get a full meal on the table so my kids can take one bite of it was mentally draining. Our normal now looks like this: during the week we eat leftovers, takeout or something super easy to whip up (grilled cheese and scrambled eggs are a favorite) and everybody can eat where they want. We reserve weekends for elaborate family meals together when everyone is more relaxed.
Old normal #2: Kids need big birthday parties with lots of guests and lots of gifts. My three boys are born right after Christmas at three-week intervals. During this time, I had constant anxiety from the planning, the cost, and the feeling of having to live up to a certain expectation. Our normal now looks like this: We ask for activities instead of gifts when close family and friends offer. This year, this meant a spa retreat with mom, a ski adventure day with dad, a movie date with Auntie D, disco bowling with Grandma, several sleepover parties and more! These memories and experiences are talked about and awaited with anticipation all year long — dread-free.
5. I promote independence at every chance.
The quicker my children learn to do something for themselves, the quicker I don’t have to do it for them. This may sound like common sense, but I completely undervalued this concept. Not only did I underestimate this idea, but I underestimated what my children were capable of. I taught them how to do laundry, use the oven, walk home from school, attend to our dog, make purchases online all by themselves by the age of 10. Of course, I enjoy doing things for my children and caring for them. But what I enjoy even more is seeing their self-confidence sky rocket and their desire to learn and help others grow. We still have more work to do in this space, but I think we are off to a pretty good start.
I decided to take the expression “Create a life you don’t need a vacation from,” and change it to something that feels more achievable for us: “Build a life you love.”
This saying is engraved on a plaque that hangs in our kitchen. A family mantra, a constant reminder to keep saying yes, to continue editing our decisions, redefining our rules, and have confidence that we are doing what is right for us.