Why Kids Need Schedule-Free Breaks More Than Ever

by Joanna McClanahan
MNStudio / Getty

I’ll admit it: Hearing other families’ summer plans sometimes makes me worry that I’m slacking as a mom. Other people’s kids are going on vacations, are enrolled in summer camps, sports, music lessons, and generally appear to have their whole summer scheduled down to the minute.

I see pictures on social media of people doing ALL OF THE THINGS. If I were to post pics every day, all summer, they would be of my kids eating ice pops in different parts of the house. And they’d probably be wearing the same clothes for most of them.

I would like to say that we purposely decided to have a low-key, staycation summer, but the truth is we couldn’t afford camps for both kids, let alone a trip to the Bahamas. Plus, there is something to be said for giving the kids the break; they’ve earned it and they deserve to relax a little.

Our society loves to glorify being busy, and the pressure is even more intense for parents. We want kids to do well academically, but also be involved in their community. We want them to be well-rounded and play sports. We want them to take on extracurricular activities in hopes it will help them get into good schools. We want to support their interests with lessons, camps, and the list goes on.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the closest I ever got to summer camp was when we set up a tent in our backyard. We didn’t take trips to faraway destinations. I didn’t get shuffled around between activities. I mostly just watched Nickelodeon and played with my friends. But I enjoyed my summers because they were my time to wake up when I wanted and to be carefree.

By over-scheduling summers, we’re depriving our kids of that time to relax and unwind. A nonstop itinerary isn’t something to brag about. We’re overwhelming kids (and ourselves) with the constant onslaught of things to do and places to be. We’re all exhausted by the pressure, the expectations, and of course the general lack of sleep.

The kids deserve a schedule-free break where they can focus on their friends and do the stuff that makes them happy for a few months before they go back to school. And yes, parents deserve a mental break too, where we don’t have to worry about where to be and when, every single second of the day.

We all work hard and the world is a dumpster fire right now. Self-care and relaxation is important for the whole family. So we’ll probably stay in our pajamas some days. On others, we’ll eat ice cream for breakfast and cereal for dinner.

I’m not saying that we need to let kids sit on the couch all day while they scroll through their phones in front of the TV, but they have their own ideas about how they’d like to spend their summers, and they should at least get a say in how they’re spent. And we should at least take the time to listen.