Hard times can be good times too, if you choose to find joy in unexpected places and make a place for laughter.
I haven’t done summer well this year. I had big plans to do it well — we were going to go to the water park every morning, have adventures on the weekends, organize the closets, and spend rainy afternoons reading Greek myths. But as usual, things didn’t go according to plan.
Life happened. The car broke down, work piled up, we stayed up too late, and slept in too long. The water park never happened and our adventures were few and far between. The closets are a hot mess and I literally just found D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths under the couch. But all that wouldn’t have mattered so much if I had handled summer stress with grace and a sense of humor.
I didn’t. I let it get to me and spent most days stressed out and short-tempered. I didn’t laugh or smile enough … so my kids didn’t, either. They had a pretty bad summer — not because we couldn’t take a vacation or do fun activities, but because I let the stress of life overwhelm the joy of it. Just like this mom, who wrote about seeing her child lose her joy, I have kids who have started to internalize my stress and make it their own.
“Because my happiness was based on external measures — on tasks being completed, plans running accordingly, goals being met, hairs being in place — I was continually disappointed … upset … impatient … and stressed. In the process of making my own life miserable, I’d funneled my unhappiness straight into my daughter’s once joyful heart and spirit. Her pain was a direct reflection of the expression I wore on my face.”
We’re not quite there yet — there’s less misery and pain and more stress and sadness. My kids stopped bounding out of bed eagerly about halfway into the summer, and then gave up asking to go places because they knew the answer would be no.
I don’t want to berate myself too much, here. There are seasons for everything, and this summer was a season to work. I can’t protect my kids from that, nor should I — they have to learn that life is sometimes hard and disappointing.
But they’ll learn that no matter what. What I want to teach them is that hard times don’t have to just be hard. They can be good times too, if you choose to find joy in unexpected places and make a place for laughter.
I want to teach my kids that even when things are busy and overwhelming, it’s the stolen moments of sweetness that make the work worth it. A short story after lunch, a dance party before breakfast, an afternoon break to step outside and see the rainbow spreading across the sky — these little daily joys aren’t a distraction or a luxury, they’re a necessity.
I didn’t make them a necessity this summer, and I wish I would have. My kids will learn that life is hard no matter what, but they’ll only learn that life is also lovely if I show them.
It’s too late to reclaim the whole summer, but there’s one week left — just enough time to start making joy a priority before the school year sweeps us away, and I forget how much my kids need stolen moments of joy.
And how much I need them, too.