Don’t we all want summertime to be about pool parties, Slip’N Slides, and popsicles melting on our kids’ tiny tongues? We want them to have great summer memories, just like we did. Right?
But for working moms, summertime can be a logistical nightmare. Each year as we approach the end of the school year, I see a flurry of panic in working mom discussion groups and forums. These days, most two-paycheck families rely on school as the primary source of child care. Summer vacation throws a serious kink in this system.
Isn’t it time that our school system rethinks this massive break that lasts most of the summer?
Now, I’m not saying that I don’t want my kids to have a break and spend time together. Of course I do! Summer is awesome, and I want them to enjoy at least some of it. However, the added expense and strain for all of the two-paycheck families out there is costing our country a great deal.
Maria Shriver explains how the stress of her kids’ summer vacations puts strain on working mothers and families, saying summer break “is almost more stressful than everything else the entire school year for my family.”
The costs of summer camp can be crippling, and juggling summer-long child care costs while managing the logistics of various activities, visits, trips, and schedules can feel like it requires an MBA and project management software. And that’s without doing the actual work you get paid to do.
So, what can be done?
Well, for a start, schools could consider the needs of modern families and shorten the summer break by pulling it in a couple of weeks on either end.
The government could take a look at how paying out of pocket for after-school care and summer camps affects the financial well-being of all families. As usual, families at the lower end of the economic scale suffer most, but even those families who can afford summer-long camps would benefit from not incurring those expenses all summer long.
Some mothers take on lower-paying, family-friendly jobs in place of better-paid careers because they assume that the disruptions in child care will make more ambitious full-time work too difficult. Try making partner at a competitive law firm while taking off more than two weeks per year, getting home in time to eat dinner with your kids, taking off Mondays and Fridays whenever your kids don’t have school, and leaving early to get to the 3:30 pm parent-teacher conferences.
Self-employed moms who work from home are better able to absorb all of the demands that schools place on parents for being available during work hours. Still, just because they have a somewhat higher degree of flexibility doesn’t mean they don’t face child care challenges, too.
But these are all longer-term solutions that won’t necessarily help you this summer. Here are four practical ideas we can personally set in motion to help ourselves and other working moms make it through the next two and a half months.
1. Pool Resources
Have a backyard party (or a pool party, if you have a pool!) with a sleepover afterwards one day of the week so other moms can get in some extra work. Make sure to plan times for the other moms to return the favor.
2. Plan Daddy or Co-parent Bonding Days With the Kids
Maybe your spouse can get a fun break from their normal routine by taking over the primary child care tasks on the weekend. If you have work tasks you can do outside the office, perhaps you can substitute a weekend day for a workweek day. Schedule this as your day for content creation, data input, or other solo tasks.
If your kids have friends who are doing the same day camps or other summer activities, ask their parents if you can either swap whole days of pick-ups and drop-offs, or maybe you can drop off the kids in the morning while the other parent picks them up from practice in the afternoon, giving you a bit more time to get some work done in between.
4. Reach Out to Family and Friends
If your kids are old enough to go to their grandparents’ house for a weekend, or even a week, you can use a visit to help fill the gap between school getting out and summer camp starting. If that doesn’t work, see if neighbors, friends, or other relatives can trade babysitting times to give you some more solid blocks of time in which to focus on high-value work.
Without policy change, these are just Band-Aids and stopgap measures, so we should all take every opportunity to let leaders and policy makers know how difficult the school schedules are for working parents. In the meantime, all we can do is try our best to make the most of summers with our kids.
Jennifer Turrell is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.