I Absolutely Cannot Let My Kids Have A Schedule-Free Summer

by Christine Burke
Dimitry Zimin / Shutterstock

Summer is upon us, and if you listen closely, you can hear the collective groan of working parents everywhere. Sure, we enjoy the longer days, warmer weather, and bare feet on the sand as much as anyone else, but the summer months also mean juggling work responsibilities on top of kids who want to eat popsicles for infinity and play at the pool until their fingers are pruney.

It can be tricky, finding the balance that allows your kids to not only enjoy summer but also ensures that Mommy isn’t tearing her hair out because she can’t make her deadlines.

Some parents are able to roll with the punches when the days become hot and humid. I know plenty of parents who go with the flow and deal with their work life as it happens, amidst screeches of delight from waterslides and “Hey, Mommy, watch me!” coming from the swings. When I see a mom working on her laptop at the park while her kids frolic, I’m envious because I have a really hard time multitasking in the summertime. In fact, I downright suck at being the work-at-home mom who goes with the flow.

As my kids got older, I felt guilty about not being the mom who was always taking her kids on fantastic excursions and giving my kids the most magical summer of all time. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to complete my work assignments, and I was pretty sure my kids’ brains were going to rot out of their heads from too much screen time. I was short-tempered, and my kids were perpetually crabby because summer days are long when no one knows what to do next.

And so, my kids and I adhere to a strict schedule in the summer, because frankly, it’s better for everyone. Not only does it make scheduling work calls and writing time easier, but in our house, it works for our kids to know exactly how the day is going to unfold. A schedule cuts down on how many times a day I’m interrupted while I’m trying to work, and it also helps me remember to actually close my laptop and soak in the dog days of summer with my kids. It’s a true win-win for everyone.

I read an article a few years ago that encouraged me in my strict summer scheduling. In the piece, the writer explained that we are all the most productive at the first thing we do in the morning. Remember those lazy mornings we spent watching cartoons on Saturdays as kids? We’d pad downstairs in our Underoos, pour a bowl of cereal, and we’d watch cartoons until our mothers shoved us outside. The same is true for our kids today, and I noticed that if my kids got on their electronic devices first thing in the morning, it was next to impossible to convince them to do anything else.

So, together, we devised a schedule that worked for my work-at-home situation, and we stuck to it. We decided that each child had to do one hour of reading, one hour of creative building or crafting, one hour of exercise (can be basketball, or bike riding, or hide-and-seek, whatever they choose as long as they are moving their body), and one hour of chores before they could earn an hour of television. For my part, I agreed to work diligently during those five hours, and when the time was up, we would all regroup and go on a fun afternoon outing.

If you are a parent who is struggling to keep your shit together in the summer, try doing what we did. I’m telling you: You will be amazed at how much your kids not only enjoy the autonomy of picking their activities, but also how quickly they adapt to filling their time. Many days, they would become so engrossed in a project or outside activity that they’d run over their hour time limit. Of course, they certainly didn’t max out on chore time, but I didn’t have to load a dishwasher or fold a load of laundry all summer and that left me with more free time to enjoy all that summer has to offer with my kids.

Of course, schedules are harder to work out when your children are smaller, because let’s face it, a toddler doesn’t give a shit if you have to participate in a conference call. But for the younger set, you can certainly declare the hours between 12 and 2 p.m. mandatory napping time, or you can set a timer as a reminder to end your workday promptly at 5 p.m. A schedule doesn’t mean you have to be rigid and stick to it to the letter either. It’s merely a guideline that will give your day a rhythm when you are marching to the beat of a toddler’s incessant drumming.

By simply taking the guesswork out of our summer days, we have come to enjoy each other more. There is less bickering, and my work life doesn’t suffer like it did when we were on the willy-nilly summer day plan. And by incorporating inexpensive week-long summer camps and playdates into our regular summer schedule, I don’t dread the advent of summer like I used to now that I’ve admitted to myself that a schedule is necessary for our family.

And summer feels sweeter when I’m not the mom you can hear yelling at her kids through the open screened windows.