Balancing Work and Family during Summer Break: Ideas Wanted

my guys

“My Guys”

By Jen Ashenfelter

Sorry, you’re not going to find inspiration or words of wisdom from me right now. This time, I need your advice—and I’m confident I won’t be the only one to benefit from sharing stories and ideas. I know I’m not alone, so for everyone who has weathered summer break and made it through without losing all of your hair, we’d love to hear from you.

The challenges of being a working mother are nothing new. I’ve been in the game for a little while, but working through the summer while the boys are home is a first for me. In previous years, I’ve had the good fortune of not working during the summer months so I could focus on my boys without the added responsibilities. I have many luxuries with my current job, but taking off the entire summer is not one of them.

I truly love this job and I’m glad to have projects to keep me busy and engaged. I have the opportunity to work from home and my boss, the mother of 3 boys herself, is understanding and flexible. My hours range from 20 to 30 hours a week—makes for a good paycheck and still gives me time to devote to my family and myself. Easy, right?

No problem, I thought. My boys are older and more self-sufficient. I won’t have to see the youngest to the bus stop, so I can get started early in the morning and still hit the pool by 2pm.multitasking nick

I’m organized, clever, and planned for their every need so I could hit the “To Do” list hard. There’s food in the house. Summer- reading books are set. I gave them the “reminder” about all the things they do have so I don’t have to hear those two fingernails-down-the-chalkboard words: I’m bored. I prepared a list of things for them to accomplish, like organizing closets, drawers, and cleaning up the massive Lego display occupying two-thirds of my basement. And I signed them up for a few half-day camps to keep them socially connected. I thought to myself: I got this under control. They’ll be happy. I’ll be happy. This summer is going to be the best ever!

I know what you’re thinking and you can stop laughing now! Wow, was I wrong—at least about last week. My complaints are not new or unique, but talking about them makes me feel better. Let’s have a brief rant session—add your frustrations to the list too.

  • Oldest to camp by 9am, pick up at noon.
  • Drop by office to take care of a few things.
  • Youngest to a friend’s house for a couple hours, then home again.
  • Youngest to camp by 5pm which means making something simple for dinner at 3:30 and eating by 4.
  • To the store for last-minute birthday gift.
  • Five minutes after reaching the office, a text from youngest that oldest wouldn’t let him watch television. Really? Three televisions and only two of them. My A-students in math can’t solve this simple word problem?
  • Power outage moments after returning home and finally starting a new article.
  • When? Who? Where? What? Come see this. Can I? Why, why, why? My youngest really should become a lawyer, an investigative reporter, or work for the FBI, because he certainly knows how to ask relentless questions.
  • Flat tire which required two trips, back and forth…over two days, to the shop before it was finally fixed…blah, blah, whine, moan, etc.

Four simple hours of work takes all day! I spent more time driving here, there and everywhere with brief smatterings of writing, phone calls and planning in between. Frustrations mounting, the next person to ask for something while I was typing got the death stare! By the middle of the week, I was tired of trying to keep the plan together and gave in to the constant derailment and unrelenting requests to go to the pool.swim tube Had I actually felt like I accomplished something, it would’ve been a well-deserved break. Regardless, I needed it…and so did my boys. Is it September yet?

Ah, another week on the horizon. There are no camps scheduled, so the shuttle driver gets a short break. The tire is no longer losing air; shh, don’t jinx it. The chores are done. I remain optimistic—yet positive that uninvited challenges will crash my perfectly planned party.  

Maybe it’s guilt. Am I wrong to feel bad when the boys spend too much time playing video games or watching television so I can actually get something done? Clearly, they’re happy and I’m the one with the problem. I know, it’s best to go with the flow. Am I missing something?

I know what you’ll say, “Work after they go to bed.” One is an early bird and the other a night owl, so if I thought I’d be productive between midnight and 7am, I’d entertain that suggestion, but I’d rather hear what else you’ve got…

Here’s where the whole “a place for community and inspiration” really gets interactive—now’s your chance to weigh in with war stories and suggestions for maintaining sanity. What challenges do you face with balancing work and kids being home for the summer? How have you dealt with frustrations, solved dilemmas and managed to live to tell about it? What brings peace to your chaos? What’s your best advice?

4 thoughts on “Balancing Work and Family during Summer Break: Ideas Wanted

  1. Hmmm … well, since you are not accepting the “work after your children are in bed” advice I may be kind of stuck. I stayed up until 2:00 a.m. Sunday (Monday by that time) to unpack and reorganize my family when we returned late evening from several days vacation. I had no choice since I had multiple writing projects due this coming week and couldn’t afford to be “behind” with household to-do’s. I do, however, highly recommend a full-day summer camp experience. My son just turned four years old, yet since he does not have siblings, is very active, and loves being around other children he was ready to go! I eased him into this experience by having him attend his first summer camp at a four day per week / morning only camp at the place he went to preschool this year. This got him acclimated to typical summer camp routines and have this experience alongside his school year classmates and friends. Now, he is ready for more – and so am I! With this camp, I don’t feel like I have to turn right around and pick him up after just having dropped him off. I did a lot of shopping around to find a camp that offers many experiences and activities in one place rather than having to sign up for different camps through multiple organizations. Through my research, I found there are indeed local summer camps that offer a fulfilling experience for a reasonable price! In addition, consider sending your children to the same camp. There are camps that offer a variety of general camp activities and a little bit of everything that will keep everyone happy – sometimes at a discounted rate for additional siblings. The camp experience doesn’t necessarily have to be in a specialty area of interest. This will cut down on driving time and distance for moms and dads! Don’t be afraid to “farm out” your children either. Jen here is happily doing so when her oldest comes to visit his good ol’ Aunt Jennifer for a few days. Yet for everyone out there in OTMG-land … For older children who can handle the separation, consider pairing with another family or two to share child care days. Once a week, all the children gather at one family’s house for a few hours of fun time which gives all parents involved a break one day! In the long run, though, I am getting the feeling that all this running around and exhaustion is just part of parenting … and, after four years I am just now adapting a little better.

  2. How about an overnight with grandparents, &/or aunt and uncle with first cousins? Take one week off. Go to the pool everyday, with homemade snacks or fruit, with the camera, and each son brings one friend. Summer is a time to slow the pace, enjoy each other, listen and discuss what’s happening, what are they thinking, and do what you enjoy. What is more important, making memories or making deadlines?

    • We definitely have a few days at the beach and fun day trips planned. Yes, we certainly try to make the most of each day/summer. Building memories is important. But I have to work too. It’s a delicate balance. We don’t have family in the area so we do what we can with available resources. I did book them both in camp the same week in July…but at several hundred dollars for just 1 week, all summer would be challenging. I love to hear how others handle the balance.

  3. I was juggling work & appointments with my kids today and didn’t have time to respond until now–almost 11 pm! So I understand what you’re going through Jen, and summer is definitely a more challenging time for those of us who work from home. I don’t think there is one easy fix.. I think the solution is in a combination of strategies. I agree with several of the earlier comments, especially what Cheryl says about lessening your workload (and therefore your expectations) for the summer season, and Jennifer’s advice about full day camps. Trying to line up a full day camp for the kids during one or two key weeks when I truly need to plow through work projects has worked for me in the past. Here are a few additional approaches that work for me: Number one, it’s hard for the kids to understand that Mom working from home is not exactly the same as Mom “being home.” So from their point of view, they don’t understand that there’s a different expectation. I think it’s hard to expect to be able to work straight through several hours without interruptions in the summer. But what if you start by establishing one hour increments of time where you truly cannot be interrupted, and encourage them to do their summer homework, summer reading, quiet activities during these one hour increments, then take a half-hour break together? I like your ideas of making lists of their chores–their “to do” lists. If you set up expectations every day, such as their chores, the amount of time they need to spend reading, along with the amount of “free time” they can spend on the computer, video games, then maybe the goal is… if everything is done by 2 pm, we will go to the pool together.

    If that just doesn’t work… maybe you need in-home childcare. I know your boys are older, so the word “baby sitter” isn’t exactly appropriate. Think of the older youth you already know–someone from your neighborhood, someone from your church, from the karate studio, from an older soccer team, who might come “hang out” with the boys, keep an eye on them, practice some soccer or karate moves with them, fix lunch, and get you through 2-4 key hours, several times a week. I know the cost is hard to justify when working part-time but if the boys are having fun and learning some skills too it’s kind of like a personalized camp experience!

    Another summer strategy that has worked for me: Starting my workday earlier. I know you don’t really want to hear this! But getting a jump on my workday at 6:30 or 7 am while at least 1-2 children are still asleep gives me a few hours of quiet and quality work time.

    My son, motivated by hunger, starts asking about lunchtime everyday around 11 or 11:30 am. He has always enjoyed preparing food. So this summer, now that he is 13 and knows his way around the kitchen very well, when he comes to me at 11 or 11:30, we plan a menu together and he has prepared lunch nearly every day–not just for himself, but for his sisters and I. It’s greatly appreciated, gives him a sense of accomplishment, and everything has been tasty. We eat lunch together every day.

    Last year, we did some half-day camps and I agree that they result in a lot of running around. One strategy that really helped us last year: carpooling with another family.

    But overall, I agree with Cheryl that summertime is meant for memories and family moments. It’s a balancing act, to combine your work with the summer fun that your kids are expecting, but I have no doubt you are on the right track! Wishing you all the best!

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