Summer break is a cherished time for children filled with later bedtimes, outdoor adventures and making new memories. For parents though, research shows that the season doesn’t involve much “break” at all. Between setting up childcare, juggling the ever-changing schedules, balancing professional responsibilities and spending quality time together—summer is set up to be a mental and financial nightmare. Not to mention, it’s exhausting trying to create picture-perfect summer memories then feeling guilty when it doesn’t play out just so.
So do we simply buckle up and endure the utter chaos? In my opinion, no. Working parents should not have to settle for a break-less summer. Instead, we can identify what we can (and cannot) control, work toward letting go of societal pressures and implement strategies to help us get back to enjoying the season.
The Realities of Summer Break: Recognizing the Obstacles
Acknowledging some of the main challenges that come with summertime (and all year, really) is the first step to addressing and accepting them. As a working parent and an advocate for nearly a decade, these are the top stressors I notice as the school year comes to an end:
- Researching and finding care options and activities (plus snagging up open spots)
- Managing care gaps (or summer camp alternatives)
- Financial costs
- Managing the shift in schedules
- The mental load
- Pressure to create “magical” family memories
- Guilt about not spending enough quality time together
- Navigating career and professional goals
While most of these challenges are year-round, the jolt in routine that summer brings can greatly exacerbate the second shift. According to TULA, research requests for summer sitters, childcare and summer camps have doubled in the past year. Megan Trask, CEO of TULA, adds, “Finding and getting into summer camps now rivals getting Taylor Swift tickets. Having the kids at home in the summer means more laundry, more meal planning and prep, more wear and tear on your home, driving kids around, etc. It’s everything from the school year exacerbated front and center each hour of every day.”
Strategies For Keeping Your Work And Families Afloat In The Summer
Lauren Tetenbaum, therapist who specializes in life transitions and supporting women and caregivers and WRK/360 coach, has some advice for working parents in the trenches of summer: “Prioritize, collaborate, and try not to give into this idea that you should feel guilty for not being there, because it’s not possible for you to be everywhere.”
A licensed social worker since 2011 whose counseling practice focuses on topics including gender equity, self-advocacy, and postpartum mental health, Tetenbaum offers additional advice:
- Lean on your support system. The end of the year leading up to summer break is full of recitals, early release days, assemblies, field days, etc. While it’s normal (especially for women) to want to be present for every moment, try to tag in your partner or another person when you can to remove some of that load from your shoulders.
- Be clear about your needs and your boundaries. You can communicate through work expectations and deliverables without also having to apologize for having personal demands. Tetenbaum says, “We’re conditioned to feel like we need to hide when we’re parenting, but you should never apologize for having caregiving responsibilities.”
- Put the “magic” on the group. Instead of trying to plan every summer venture yourself (and then feeling guilty when those plans don’t pan out), get the whole family involved. Sit around and have everyone throw summer ideas out. Give each family member three votes and add the top ideas to your family’s summer wish list that you can all see and check off together. (Remember, these don’t have to be extensive activities to be memorable).
- Turn off social media. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and the guilt is creeping in or you start comparing yourself to others, just pause. Lean into appreciating the small, simple moments and try to reject the pressure to do it all. Be lighthearted and silly – the kids will appreciate it!
Employers Have A Role Here, Too.
Since our personal and professional lives are so intertwined, employers have an opportunity to step up and get involved in relieving the weight of summer as well. Consider putting some of these suggestions into action before the season hits to increase morale, avoid burnout, and keep employees engaged:
- Get educated on what type of resources and support are available to employees and put it right in front of them. There could be existing benefits parents can take advantage of in the summertime such as back up care stipends that can be utilized for summer camp. Better yet, get your HR leader to lead a company-wide info session calling out those resources and reminding employees how to access them.
- Give the utmost flexibility you can. Between the pick ups, drop offs and all the activities that are crammed into the summer weeks, schedules simply aren’t stagnant. Rather than putting it all on the parents, encourage managers to proactively acknowledge this seasonal shift with their team and be the first to open the door for conversations on what flexible accommodations could look like.
- Consider a company-wide summer break. Just like the last week of December, there’s so much public grace and respect that comes out of announcing that your company will be out of office to prioritize some personal, quality time (regardless of whether or not they have children). If you can swing it, announce the days off as early as possible (as unexpected surprise days off can actually make scheduling even more complicated). If your company can’t all close at one time, lay out clear guidelines for protecting people’s time when they are out on vacation and allowing your employees to truly check-out.
- Be honest with your out-of-office. No matter the reason, sharing that you are taking time away to prioritize your personal wants and needs is a great way to reinforce a culture that cares for and supports the whole employee.
It’s Not Just About Summer.
Summer can feel like a beast all on its own but the reality is that these challenges (and strategies) are relevant for employees and employers all year long.
Rather than viewing summer as a season of chaos that we simply have to survive though, let’s look at it as an opportunity to reflect and test new ways of offering flexibility, care support and employee resources. If we’re proactive about having these conversations and implementing strategies that take some of the mental load off our employees, we can work toward putting some growth, connection and rejuvenation back into summertime.