When the summer weeks look just like the school year, it’s easy for a working parent to feel guilty
While many parents are currently in summer vacation hell trying to occupy their kids during those long, hot days, others have problems of a different sort. Being at home with your children all summer brings a variety of challenges, but for working moms, the challenge is pretty singular.
When summer looks pretty much like the rest of the school year save for a week or two of actual vacation, it’s easy to feel like you’re short-changing your kids. But that’s what many working parents are faced with once school is out. They send their kids either to full-time daycare or a series of camps, cobbling together the weeks of summer until it’s time for them to go back to school.
In an essay for the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens nails how tons of working parents feel as summer goes by. “Mid-July is when it hits me that summer doesn’t feel different enough from the rest of the year, in that we’re still rushing from place to place at a rapid pace. (Camp! Work! Trampoline practice! Grocery store! Football practice!) Every year I swear it will be different, and every year it’s not different enough. My kids don’t even have time to utter that hallmark of childhood summers: “I’m bored.””
Been there. When I worked an office job full-time, this was exactly how our summers went once the kids started school. And before they were school-age and attended year-round childcare, the only thing that changed in our lives when summer hit was packing swimsuits for daycare instead of snowsuits.
Stevens explains that during her family’s actual vacation, her kids got to experience a week of what she felt summer should be at their ages. Board games, playing outside until late and plenty of swim time. And this is where the guilt came rushing in.
“Somewhere along the way, a message lodged in my brain that says summer should look like that the whole way through. From my own childhood, maybe, when I rarely went to camp and I spent a lot of hours bored.”
I too remember my lazy childhood summers spent at home with no real schedule or plans. I woke up when I wanted to and headed outside. Or not. I went where the day took me. I played video games, read books, drew pictures, talked on the phone with my friends, went to the town pool — whatever I wanted. I was also definitely bored a lot of the time.
And like Stevens, at some point, I had decided this was the most idyllic way to spend summer when you’re a kid and that by working full-time, I was giving my children a lesser experience than I had. And eventually, I realized something.
That it’s complete bullshit.
Though I work from home now and my kids are having something closer to the summer I previously saw as ideal, the few summers they spent at various camps when I worked outside the home were pretty much incredible. My daughter hung around the older girls at her day-camp and learned to make all kinds of friendship bracelets and how to play four square and do a french braid. She learned the backstroke during their daily swim sessions and spent the entire summer singing fun camp songs her counselors taught her. In short, although I felt terrible dropping her off early every morning so I could work, she had a total blast. The only one miserable was me.
Fast-forward to now, where I have a few days off during the week that I typically cram full of activity in an attempt to make sure we’re squeezing enough fun out of summer, because on the days I work, they’re “bored” and watching TV alone, while I’m full of guilt of a whole other variety.
Get the picture? The guilt never seems to go away. But it needs to.
Because no matter what, the kids will be fine. They will have a great time. They will make memories. My kids are equally happy whether it’s my day off and we go places or a day where I have to crank out a few articles and spend hours on my laptop ignoring them. As the guilt consumes me, they’re only consumed by one thing — fun.
And it’s about time I ignored that ugly voice in my head and followed their lead.