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How to survive ‘Maycember’ in three almost-easy steps

By Dr. Katie Hurley, CNN

(CNN) — When my kids were in elementary school, the weeks between spring break and summer vacation seemed to go by at warp speed, mostly because I spent most of that time running the children from event to event in between work meetings.

From Spring Sing to Mother’s Day breakfast to field day and beyond, there was always a reason to be at school, send something to school or procure some special outfit for some event at school. It was exhausting.

Cut to the teen years. You might think it’s a little less intense, and perhaps parents of teens are even just a bit nostalgic for a Spring Sing, but sadly that’s not the case. Sugar-fueled class parties were replaced with stress-fueled study groups for Advanced Placement exams, and field day morphed into an endless loop of sports tournaments (all of which require at least 45 minutes of commuting), not to mention prom, volunteer hours, extra credit projects, awards ceremonies, banquets, fundraisers and requests for parent volunteers to assist with a long list of school events.

“Maycember” is a term that online content creators the Holderness family coined to describe the sheer chaos of the month of May, much like the month of December. Regardless of the age of your kids, both May and December are packed with social and school-related responsibilities, and it can become overwhelming. Sometimes it feels like Mayhem.

Between the nonnegotiables, such as standardized testing and preparing for finals, and the carrots dangled to help them succeed, such as extra credit projects and appearances, teens are running on empty as the school year comes to an end. While it’s certainly a nice gift to earn extra credit points by attending a school event, time off to rest on the weekend is another gift most exhausted teens can use as they crawl toward the finish line.

While the teen years are generally characterized by increased independence and spending more time with friends than family, the expectations for parent involvement remain high this time of year. Though I’ve been known to “buy time” by donating extra funds if I can’t take time off from work to volunteer on campus, there’s still a lot to do before we store the backpacks for the season.

While so many of these May obligations are impossible to move, I’ve learned that there are some ways to make this time of year a little less hectic. Try these suggestions if you like — but don’t make them another obligation!

Hold your boundaries

Setting boundaries is easy; it’s holding boundaries that can be tricky.

I’m always grateful for the people who volunteer their time to head up committees on the PTA or parent board. Schools need parents who can transform ideas into reality and make things happen. It’s their job to seek help (sometimes on repeat) until every action item is accounted for and every event is complete, but not every parent can volunteer for every event.

Be clear and confident with your boundaries. If you can’t volunteer for an event, but you can make a financial contribution, do that. If you can’t do either, say that you would love to help another time.

It’s important to set boundaries around your time for volunteering, but it’s equally important to set boundaries with your own kids. If attending every event isn’t possible, talk with your kids about the events they hope you’ll attend and why, then make a plan that works for everyone. You might even ask a grandparent or other relative to attend an event on your behalf.

Telling your family that you simply can’t do it all might feel like a failure, but it’s a valuable life lesson. When families learn to prioritize, they take the time to consider what an event means to them and why it’s important to attend. One way to start this conversation is to ask each kid to list their top three events for May and discuss them over an ice cream cone. You might even find that the things you thought were important (prom!) come in second place to something completely different (quiz bowl, anyone?).

Parent guilt is real, and it can feel like missing these moments will be remembered for a lifetime. But the truth is that kids will remember the time you spent together and how they felt in your presence. Kids crave relational safety from their parents, not a camera roll full of snapshots from school events.

Prioritize mental health

No good comes from a family running around from event to event without a moment even to enjoy the ones they attend. Just like it’s OK to skip out on some holiday parties in December, families are not required to respond “yes” to every invitation for end of the year celebrations.

Particularly with teens, it’s essential to model positive actions that promote mental health. Teens are wired to do all the things, so they don’t always make the choice to slow down and pay attention to their minds and bodies. Parents can help by creating some mental health safe zones. Creating quiet nights to offset the celebrations takes the guesswork out of it for teens. Instead of trying to manage multiple events, they can simply say, “I have a family thing tonight,” and take a break from the action.

Will every teen love this approach? No. That’s OK. It’s not your job to win coolest parent ever, but it is your job to help your teens learn to slow down when life gets overwhelming. They’ll thank you for it one day.

Watch your social media consumption

People love to worry about how scrolling through social media affects teens, but not nearly enough attention is paid to how the same behavior affects parents. Seeing the perfect report cards, perfect test scores and parent attendance at every single thing can really wear you down, but you don’t have to go there. You can set a time limit on your phone to decrease your own scrolling and think about replacement behaviors that feel better.

I don’t often feel great after getting lost in social media, but I always feel good after a rousing game of Bananagrams with my teens. It’s an easy swap.

Give yourself a break from comparison culture and focus on enjoying the time you can spend with your family during this busy season.

In a few short weeks, Maycember will be behind us for another year, and we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief. (Don’t get me started about camp.) Until then, focus on relationship building over checking things off the list. You’ll be glad you did.

Dr. Katie Hurley is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, and the author of several books, including “No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls” and the forthcoming “Fiona McPhee, Please Listen to Me!

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