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Summertime, and the living is very scheduled

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype


Some of my happiest childhood memories come from those long, languid summer days spent hunting for tiny shells along the beach or planting marigolds in my grandmother’s garden. My sister and I would run wild, our hair tangled and gritty, our filthy bare feet toughened by gravel driveways and the rough bark of the cherry tree. We’d sway side by side on the backyard swings, one hand gripping the sun-warmed metal chains and the other holding a gooey tunafish and pickle sandwich. I love these memories almost as much as I loved the days themselves. They were such a relief from the constant structure and social pressure of the school year. During the summer, I was free to explore and read and daydream as much as I wanted. I could just be me.

I was reminded of those precious summer days as I emailed back and forth with my ex-husband last week, planning our daughters’ summer schedule. Every moment is accounted for. Every day has an elaborate plan attached with transportation, childcare and even meals already figured out. Although living in two households certainly complicates the matter somewhat, the fact is times are just different. When I was little, neither one of my grandmothers worked. My summers were split between their two nearby houses. All of the grandparent figures in my children’s lives (meaning their actual grandparents or the parents of our new partners) either work full time or live out of state. We don’t have the luxury of dropping the girls off at a relative’s house while we work during the summer, so the girls go to camps. They’ve never had a summer like the ones their dad and I knew growing up, and they most likely never will.

This, I think, is very sad. I find myself compensating for this lack of a carefree summer by inserting chunks of “free time” into our weekend schedules, days where we have nothing planned and nowhere to be. I firmly believe they need this time desperately. I just wish I could give them more of it. How do other mothers do this? Is a summer without schedules simply the luxury of the married, non-working housewife? If so, what does this mean for the millions of children whose parents and, increasingly, all members of extended family, must work full time in order to stay afloat? What will this do to their imaginations, their creativity? What will happen to our artists and dancers and explorers and scientists?

I fear that in trying to make sure my kids are safe and cared for while the grown-ups in their lives work, we’re effectively scheduling them right out of a childhood. Tell me it isn’t so. Tell me there is hope. Tell me there’s a TED talk out there for working mothers whose relatives can’t step in to help.

There must be a different way to do this.

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7 comments so far...

  • The possibility of my daughter having carefree summers is one of the many things I had to let go and mourn when I got divorced. There is no way she can experience that as long as I have to work. But since she won’t know the difference maybe she will find joy in her summers that is different than my joy in my past summers.

    No real words of advice here, just some understanding!

    RebeccaL  |  March 5th, 2013 at 9:52 am

  • I was lying awake worrying about this just the other night! And we’re barely into March - a new record for me.

    Anyhow, I despair about this every summer. During the school year, it’s fine that my kids have two working parents; come summer, it seems like some kind of society-wide mistake. Also like a parent-level mistake, and a planning problem that surely can be figured out somehow - this CAN’T be the only option, I think as I research the local camp options and get more and more depressed (it doesn’t help that not one single camp maintains working parent hours, so in addition to overscheduling and expense, there’s the fretty-fret-fret feeling of having to always be sneaking out of work - of actually planning my summer around sneaking out of work, in fact.) What I’m planning to do this year is to go the babysitter/ nanny route, supplemented by sports, a few classes/ week-long camps and, for my oldest (11), some beginning look at job-like things. The nanny route isn’t perfect, but at least it gives my kids lots of free time in their own home.

    Melospiza  |  March 6th, 2013 at 5:00 pm

  • There really isn’t another option. I grew up going to camp and so does my child unfortunately. My sister runs herself ragged attempting to fit in full time nursing work around half-day camp schedules. Which is only slightly better than when she ran herself ragged working a night shfit and then staying up half the day to run her kids all around. And she has a husband!

    Mich  |  March 8th, 2013 at 3:34 pm

  • I think you’ve got the right idea by scheduling “free time” into the weekends. That way you make sure that you don’t let errands and other stuff get in the way.

    It’s funny because some kids who grew up with the carefree nothing-to-do summer wish they got the full summer camp experience so I guess it’s one of those “grass is always greener” type of things!

    Stacey Vulakh, Timestyle Coach  |  March 11th, 2013 at 3:25 pm

  • @Stacey: Thanks! It seems to be working well for us so far!

    @Mich: It’s so hard, because even some of the “full day” camps end at 1 or 3 pm! I can understand how crazy that could get for your sister.

    Karli  |  March 11th, 2013 at 4:45 pm

  • @Melospiza: We ended up doing the same sort of “patchwork” scheduling, with some weeks being camp weeks and some weeks being nanny weeks. Let me know how your summer goes!

    @RebeccaL: Thanks for understanding. This parenting stuff can be a tough gig sometimes!

    Karli  |  March 11th, 2013 at 4:51 pm

  • As for “I fear that in trying to make sure my kids are safe and cared for while the grown-ups in their lives work, we’re effectively scheduling them right out of a childhood”, I think the answer for us has been “it depends”. When both of mine attended daycare, they were safe and cared for, but not overly scheduled. The daycare purposely keeps things light in the summer. There are a few scheduled activities, like field trips to library programs, but that is about it. Other than than that, the closest thing to a schedule is they go to the pool sometime after lunch and come back when the daycare teacher says it’s time. That could be one hour or 3 at the pool. Only this year, with 12 year old DD have we run up against the tightly organized schedule. She’s too old for daycare, so she’s going to daycamps that will be a lot more structured than her past summers. And yes, I will be sneaking out of work to get her because the “all day” schedule won’t really be all day. Seven year old DS will still go to day care, where the only schedule he will have is that lunch is at a set time and that he must do *something* aside from play his DS *all* day.

    paula  |  March 28th, 2013 at 2:58 pm