The pressure to give our kids a magical summer is intense. Scrolling through social media, it’s easy to get the impression that all moms are counting the seconds until school lets out. Then, one big endless (or at least a 3 month long) party begins. Sleeping in, lazy mornings, poolside playdates, camps, Pinterest-worthy crafts and snacks, Disney vacations, waterparks, competitive sports…does everyone have the time (and money!) to do it all?!
If you are feeling panicked, disheartened, annoyed, or anything other than bliss about the expectation to fill day after scorching hot day with fun, engaging, and intellectually stimulating activities for your children, you are not alone. There is a lot of privilege behind the ability to provide these things for kids during the summer months. And not everyone has that privilege available to them.
There are structural, systemic barriers that exist in our society surrounding motherhood, caregiving, and providing for our children. And school breaks, especially in the summer months, amplify these challenges.
For many parents, summer “vacation” is more of a burden than a blessing.
The Childcare Scramble
Educators are experts in their fields, and they get offended at the suggestion that they are glorified babysitters. Their offense is appropriate. Parents and society should respect them (and pay them accordingly) as the professionals that they are. Full stop. However, structurally, in our current society, school IS childcare for millions of families from August through May.
For most, school is seven hours a day of a structured, safe environment where children are engaged, fed, and cared for. During the summer months, working parents must scramble to find alternative sources of childcare. And these sources are almost never covered by tax dollars. For those with limited financial resources, this is a major burden.
Time and Money
The structure of our society assumes every family has the financial means of a dual-income household, and yet always has at least one parent available at home to care for children. Of course, the reality is this is not the case. For families with two working parents, single-parent families, or families without economic privilege, the summer months can be incredibly stressful.
Again, during the school year, public school provides children with engaging learning activities, social interaction, food, transportation, and many other resources. If parents wish to continue a comparable level of engagement during the summer for their children, they have to pay for it.
All those previously mentioned ways we are expected to fill our children’s summer vacation have a great cost of both time and money. And when these resources are in short supply, we often feel enormous guilt that we are failing our kids.
Camps and activities are incredibly expensive and don’t usually last all day. Working parents are forced to pay the cost of “extended hours” to cover the duration of the workday. If a parent chooses to stay at home full time with her children or even cut their working hours, they are sacrificing financial resources. It’s incredibly defeating, and a no-win situation for many.
Kids with Additional Needs
Parents of children with disabilities struggle in the summer months for a variety of reasons. They face enormous pressure to provide meaningful experiences for their kids (who require dedicated attention) while at the same time working, and/or caring for other children.
Most children thrive on structure and routine and are affected when their schedule changes abruptly. But kids with disabilities are especially vulnerable in the summer months. Many children who receive extra support or therapies during the school year go without them in June, July, and August. Often, this causes them to regress.
Summer is anything but relaxing for these families. Travel is often not possible, typical summer activities are difficult and expensive to adapt for children with disabilities, and these months are often isolating.
The Burden of Summer Falls on Mothers
This is certainly not prescriptive, but in general, mothers bear the burden of planning and structuring their children’s time and activities in the summer. Mothers are wizards at the calendar, piecing complicated schedules together than would rival that of the President. But this unpaid labor, compounded with all the other tasks that fall on mothers, can be overwhelming.
In addition to the practical logistics of summer, mothers are also expected to maintain the emotional health of the entire family. This can be extremely challenging for moms who are struggling with their mental health, or moms who thrive on structure and routine themselves.
Of course, moms can still create magic this summer without the privilege of bountiful resources. Kids can thrive with or without camps, expensive vacations, and a mom home with them all summer long. However, as a society, we need to do more to address the year-round burden placed on mothers. For many, this burden is heavy and moms are buckling under its weight.