Summer break! It’s time when kids everywhere enjoy vacation homes, family time, lazy days of sleeping late, breakfast on the back patio, and then splashing in sprinklers all day. Or, in the case of many working moms like me . . . kids are at summer camp. Don’t get me wrong – my boys love the day camp they go to, and I know they’d be bored out of their minds at home all day . . . I just wish that I didn’t have to drop them off so early for before-care and leave them there so late at after-care. Drop-off gives me a hard-to-swallow dose of working mom guilt, leaving me in tears in the parking lot at least a few times over the summer, hoping I wore waterproof mascara that morning.
To say that balancing the demands of a corporate job (or any job! or the demands of being a work-at-home-mom) with motherhood (THREE BOYS!) and household duties and doing much (just about all? all?) of the “thinking” and “planning” for the family (thank you, B, for doing the dishes so much — it’s really helpful and I truly do appreciate it!), and a long-ish commute is a lot to manage is an understatement. I’d like to think I do it like a champ, but it isn’t easy, and the last thing I want is to miss out on time with my kids or force them into a schedule when I think they’d be better off enjoying a day of free play. That’s why it hits me hardest in the summer.
My mom stayed home until I was in middle school and then worked in the school system, so she still had summers off with my sister and me. Summer meant planting gardens, watering flowers, walking around the block to my friend’s house where we’d spend hours and then wander back to my house for hours more, swimming, sprinklers, iced tea, potato chips. watermelon, going to the fruit stand with Mom to pick out delicious, juicy, locally grown plums, renting a movie (yes, youngons, we used to have to go to a store that had movies on videotapes and rent them, being sure to rewind them fully before returning them the next day), having weekday sleepover parties, seeing movies, going to the beach, having lemonade stands . . . Yeah, you get the picture. Summers were full of action for me, but lazy at the same time, and we just let the fun unfold. No set wakeup time. No set bedtime. Lots of free time, which I believe is key for kids.
So, what do I do? Quit my job? Nope. Here’s how I cope:
Plan ahead . . . for nothing:
I am blessed with enough vacation time at work to plan ahead for taking off key holidays, time for school events, sick days for my kids, and summer vacations, etc.. I reserve several days each year to enjoy with the boys in the summer. I love to plan enough time off from work to have fully scheduled days to go to a water park or amusement park or aquarium or pool, but I also really love planning for time to do NOTHING! I love the days where we can wake up leisurely (note, I didn’t say “late,” because my boys are always up long before 6am) and not rush into getting dressed and ready and out the door. We can go out for a walk around the block, or play outside, and then just keep playing. It’s so fulfilling to just spend time together without screaming “put on your shoes” or “get dressed” or “finish your breakfast, we have to go!” To just roll . . . from the sprinkler to a blind Oreo taste test to watching a show to painting rocks to riding bikes . . . to whatever pops up next.
Remember why you work:
We all have reasons. Maybe because you got a degree and want to use it. Maybe you thrive on the challenge your work poses to you, or you need an outlet with adult conversation. Maybe you’re saving people or doing good things for the world. Maybe it’s for financial reasons, with so many families in America needing to be dual income these days. Maybe it’s a combination of these things, or any number of other reasons. Whatever the reason, don’t lose sight of it just because it’s summer. If you feel right about it, share your reasons with your kids. It may help them see you in a new light, whether it’s understanding how you provide for the family, teaching strong work ethic, piquing their interest in possible future career paths, or showing how you can balance it all and be a present, dedicated, love-you-more-than-the-whole-universe kind of mom. Or, it may make them look away and then look back to tell you a story about what happened today at camp . . . because they had a blast and didn’t think twice about the fact that you went to work, and they are just as likely to surprise you with a “You’re the best mom ever” compliment as the kids of a mom who didn’t go to work today.
Another trick for those days you go to work — take advantage of the evening hours, since it stays light for longer in summer. Play outside, let bedtime be a little later, enjoy some time together at the end of the day.
Break up the summer:
Some of my angst comes from the feeling that the kids are on a never-ending cycle of no breaks: 10 months of school, 2 months of camp, 10 months of school, 2 months of camp . . . So, whether for them or for me, I find it helpful and comforting to break up their summer schedules a bit. I try to give them the first week off of school without camp if I can swing it in my work schedule — time to decompress a bit after working so hard and being so scheduled during the school year. Then I plan for a few weeks of camp, and then a few days off with fun stuff planned — a day with Grammy and Boppa, a day with friends, a day at home doing nothing . . . and then a different camp (if they want) for a week or two . . .and then hopefully some more time off for a little family vacation. That makes me feel more like I’m giving them a variety of experiences, chances to make all sorts of memories like the ones I have from my childhood, and to make summer seem more like a whole bunch of fun and relaxing and adventurous stuff rather than 8 weeks straight of just the same camp every day. That said, I’m pretty sure that they wouldn’t mind camp camp camp every day . . . and they don’t necessarily need to decompress as much as I do!
Be a part of it:
Forget the FOMO. Don’t miss out — jump in and be a part of the experience when you can. It’s not just my kids who love to be at camp. I make a point of participating, too, whenever there is a chance: Family night, watching the kids do skits and sing songs, watching them run around and laugh out loud with old and new friends, while we enjoy hot dogs and hamburgers and fruit and cookies. Follow along on social media: For example, if the camp posts fun pictures on Facebook/Instagram, follow, share the pics with the kids, point out the ones they’re in, and ask them about those experiences. Also, know what their daily schedule is, so you can have real conversations about the activities they are participating in. And, of course, if you’re off work on weekends, make the most of those days whether they’re filled with activities or not.
Look at those smiles:
Seriously! Look at those smiles! Go to work — the kids are OK! They’re better than OK . . . they’re having fun, learning new skills, making friends, having adventures, living it up, playing outside, doing skits, learning songs, making crafts, swimming, learning games, learning teamwork, exploring nature, building forts, riding bikes . . . They’re HAPPY and they don’t have daily homework!!!! (unless you’re giving it to them, which is also OK!). While I’m feeling guilty in the morning as we leave for camp drop-off, the kids are rushing out the door to go see their friends — they can’t wait to get there! So, relax a little. You’re raising strong, balanced, social kids. It’s all good.
Now push that working mom guilt aside, and go enjoy your summer as much as the kids are enjoying it!