“If you two can’t get along, we’re taking the puppy back – today!” I shout through my hazy cloud of summer-induced frustration.

For the fourteenth time of the morning, my children are fighting over who gets to hold the puppy, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to burst at the seams before summer ends. Part of me realizes that adding an eight-week-old beagle puppy to the chaos of our summer schedule was asking for patience-testing moments. The other part of me just wants to enjoy this beautiful time of year.

I’ve spent most of my life longing for the reprieve of summer. From the day I stepped foot in the kindergarten classroom until the day I graduated from college, I craved the open schedule and open spaces of summer. The sense of eager expectation for June, July, and August continued as I embarked on a career as a special education teacher. I loved my job and the opportunity to impact the lives of students, but I also loved the warm air and freedom of summer.

I find myself recalling fond memories of summers past as I slump into the kitchen chair, both kids and the puppy all wailing like I’ve crushed their tender hearts. I feel utterly defeated. I longed to make this a memorable summer for my six-year-old. With a successful year of kindergarten under her belt, I hoped having her home would fill her two-year-old brother with joy. And I thought adding a puppy to our family would double the pleasure.

I was wrong. My toddler is distraught that he no longer has full-dominion in our home and resorts to screaming, hitting, and biting his big sister. Big sister is frustrated that the barely-walking baby brother she remembers from last summer now wants to do everything she does. The puppy has her own agenda, which includes howling like it’s nobody’s business when she’s not being coddled and destroying everything in sight in her happy moments.

Sinking into the hard kitchen chair, it dawns on me that the greatest problem in the whole juxtapose situation is that I have my own agenda. I want to stay in my schedule of early morning Bible reading, exercising in the basement, laundry, showering, lunch dates with other moms, and two hours of working online during nap time. When my little ones disturb my schedule or throw me off course, I lash out in anger and impatience. It’s ugly.

I close my eyes and offer a weak prayer, “Lord, I need you to guide me in all this. I can’t do this anymore.”  

The Lord’s sweet grace falls on me like soft summer rain, and I sense his forgiveness. My heart is utterly broken in a thousand pieces, and I beg for the Potter to reshape me into his design.

I realize the first step in embracing these summer months is laying down my personal agenda and embracing this season of life with little ones.

My long lists of personal goals for a clean house, thriving community ministry, and lean body are partly for the good of my family. However, these goals are mostly self-centered ideals that are all about me. My primary calling is to raise these children in the love and adoration of the Lord, and I forfeit this high calling when I keep my eyes on my personal to-do list all day.

Mulling over the many times I’ve lost my patience in the past two hours, I mostly want to sink into the linoleum and spend the day in a puddle of self-loathing tears. I’ve failed my kids, and I know it. I offer another whispered prayer:  “Lord, forgive me for not enjoying this life you’ve given me. Forgive me for taking my kids for granted.”

I am suddenly reminded to extend the same grace to myself that the Lord extends to me.

Every mother fails her children from time to time. We lose our tempers. We forget to slow down and enjoy this life. We sulk. We blow it big time.

Messing up is simply a part of parenting. Just as we’re called to forgive those who sin against us, we’re called to forgive ourselves when we sin against those we love the most. I apologize to my children, and there are hugs and smiles. I throw my to-do list in a basket on top of the fridge and we head to the yard with the puppy, determined to embrace the day.

As I bask in the sunshine, I pull out my journal and make a list to remind myself of what to do when summer gets hard:

  1. Lay down my agenda and embrace these moments as opportunities to invest in my kids, even when that means I’m breaking up arguments and teaching them to get along.
  2. Forgive myself when I blow it.
  3. Remember how quickly this season of life will pass.
  4. Turn off autopilot mode and look for small moments to enjoy.
  5. Plan pure summer fun – things that I will enjoy too.
  6. Put down the phone, spatula, or broom and listen deeply to their stories, thoughts, and concerns.
  7. Embrace silly moments.
  8. Draw on the sidewalk with chalk.
  9. Blow bubbles.
  10. Dance in the sprinklers.

I’m interrupted by cold water squirting from a plastic dolphin’s mouth, and I look up startled. My  playful toddler stands beside me in unsure expectation. I laugh, grab my water bottle, and squirt it high over his head. Squeals break out across the yard. This summer’s not over yet, and we’re going to embrace every moment we can.

Stacey Pardoe

Stacey Pardoe lives with her husband Darrell and two children in western Pennsylvania. In addition to being a wife and mother, she is a writer, mentor, and teacher. She is passionate about encouraging others to pursue their passions and make an impact in the culture. She enjoys hiking, camping, running, and spending time outside with her family.