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Managing Summer Chaos as a Working Parent

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Working parent, kids, and summer chaos

A friend of mine, "Sarah,” loved summer as a kid — the summer camps, backpacking, white water rafting. But now as a full-time corporate employee and mom of two pre-teens, she sees summer as a time of unpredictable chaos. “You know it’s coming. You can try to plan for some of the potential foreseeable hurdles, but at the end of the day, it’s just a lot more logistics. I have a 12-year-old who doesn’t want to do the kid things and is too young for adult things, so camps aren’t really an option.” Sarah’s 10-year-old daughter was signed up for camp until Sarah found out at the last minute that the camp couldn’t accommodate her special needs. By then it was too late to sign up for any other camp. That left Sarah juggling kids and work deadlines weekly.

In addition to the myriad logistical challenges, summer camps can cost hundreds of dollars a week for each child, which isn’t feasible for every family. It all leaves parents feeling stressed about a lack of summer childcare.

If this sounds familiar, try these strategies to manage the chaos of summer while still trying to achieve your work goals:

Change location

Kids are excited they aren’t in school and don’t always realize that you don’t get a summer break from work. If the weather is nice and you work from home, consider moving your laptop outside for a few hours while your kids chalk up the sidewalk, run around the backyard, or run through a sprinkler. Or is there an indoor activity that both has Wi-Fi and entertains your children, such as an indoor action sport playground? Watching your kids play and have fun while continuing to accomplish your work can help renew your energy. It may also allow you to join in some fun in between meetings or when you have a break.

Create a schedule

During the school year, it’s easy to have a routine — get ready for school, drop off kids at school, work, pick up kids from school, drive to and watch after-school activities, prepare dinner, nighttime routine, and when the kids are asleep, perhaps back to work or go to sleep yourself. Children crave schedules, so create a weekly and daily routine to help them understand what will fill each day. For example, on Tuesday: breakfast, read for 30 minutes, watch TV for 30 minutes, do an art project for an hour, play with toys, have lunch, play with pets, play in sprinklers, take a walk, etc.

Also create a schedule for your day that includes when you’re available to fully engage with them. This will limit the chaos a bit because everyone will know what’s expected during the workday. If this isn’t feasible, can you adjust your schedule to work early mornings and later in the evenings, to make the days juggling your job and kids less harrowing? For Sarah, that started with a conversation with her boss. “The managers who are receptive will prioritize what are the must-dos and what can be delayed,” she told me. This schedule allows her to spend some time engaging with her kids during the day and catch up on work in the evening hours.

Share care responsibilities

If your kids aren’t in camp and are young and need to be closely watched, consider creating an arrangement with other working parents where one parent has all the kids one day a week. It may take considerable time to organize a cohort of parents, but think about the rewards for both you and your kids. For five days a week during 10 weeks of summer, if you find a cohort of 10 parents, then you only need to take off five days of work when it’s your turn to create a fun day for the group of children. If this isn’t feasible, consider hiring a “teenage helper” who can be present with your children while you’re still around for questions and overall supervision.

Sarah has also tried traveling to visit family for a period of time, hoping they could help while she works. “But that means trying to manage the kids in a different location when they don’t have all their comforts of home.” She says sometimes that can feel like more work depending on the level of support you receive. In any case, the goal is to think outside the box about how to create a fun summer for your kids without exhausting yourself.

Drop the guilt

Most working parents feel some kind of guilt that they’re not focused enough on work or on their families. Now is not the time to scroll social media and feel guilt or jealousy over your friends touring Europe for the summer or showing off pictures of their fabulous vacations. It’s also not the time to feel guilty that your kids are in front of a screen for longer than you’d like. Sarah recognizes that may be the only choice for some parents: “If you have enough discretionary income, then you can find something for your kids to do; if not, screens are it.”

The most important thing to remind yourself is your kids will remember the moments you create, even if there are only a few special moments. So figure out the top three things you want to do as a family on your days off. Maybe you could rent a boat on a lake, have a staycation and be disconnected from work, plan a day trip to somewhere for family fun, or simply play a board game. Having some planned experiences will take away some of the guilt of working while your kids are free from school for the summer. It will also allow you to have dedicated time with them to create those special summer memories.

Practice self-care

Summer isn’t just for your kids. It’s also for you! Sarah says this is one of her biggest struggles with summer: “There isn’t any time for me time.” Not to add any additional pressure, but determining one or two things you’ll do for yourself this summer will give you something to look forward to. Perhaps take an early morning walk at least one day a week. Order lunch from a restaurant once a week for a special meal. Get a massage. Consider what you’ll do for yourself to get into the summer mood. Just like you hold yourself accountable to your work goals, hold yourself accountable to your self-care goals, and make sure you acknowledge how you feel after a self-care activity.

. . .

While the weather alone may tell you it’s summer, sometimes juggling the kids’ entertainment and your work responsibilities can feel overwhelming, and you just want it to be over. Sarah believes that “there is no summer for parents — there are just different seasons of stress.” But if you put in some time to plan how you’ll create time for yourself and your kids, you can preserve some of your own energy and create memorable family experiences.

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