How we handled summer as two working parents

7 September 2022

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, I wanted to share a bit about how we handled our first summer as two working parents to an elementary-school student. As a consummate planner, I looked ahead to this summer and thought about it for actual years in advance, knowing it would require thoughtfulness and careful planning to execute what I thought was best, in the way I wanted to live it out. Today, you get to see a bit of the fruit of that :)

In the hopes that our experience might help someone else, I’ll start with a little background information and a few thoughts that helped guide my planning, share a bit about what this first summer looked like, and then end with some thoughts on how it all turned out. I hope it’s helpful. For all the content that is pumped out daily online, this is not the type of thing that gets talked about very often, but as a parent, it’s the type of thing that matters very much to me. Here we go!

A little background info

In bullet-point form!

  • In previous years, June attended daycare and preschools that were essentially year-round, so we did not have to come up with a special care plan for the summer months. Our younger two kids still largely kept to their “school-year” routines this summer.
  • Where we live, we have the option of attending a traditional calendar or a year-round public elementary school. We opted for the traditional calendar. Call me stubborn or nostalgic (or both), but long summers at home were formative for me, and it’s important to me to offer the same to my kids, even if it means more effort on our part.
  • When we began to plan for this summer, we considered three things: what was possible given other constraints (time, money, etc.), what mattered to me and John, and what mattered to June. The third was the least important factor, though I think it will become more and more salient as she gets older. (More on this below!)
  • Everything cannot matter, so articulating what mattered most to us was hugely helpful and helped us make decisions. Your priorities will almost certainly be different than ours or your neighbors’. That is okay.
  • What mattered to us: Relaxed time to be a kid. Time outside. Time to be bored and use her imagination. Low/no tech programming. Time to read. Time to play with neighborhood friends. A chance to engage her faith. Space for John and I to do our work with minimal interruption. Minimal travel time to and from activities.
  • What did not matter to us: Anything overly-academic. Wow-factor activities or adventures. The simplest logistics. The cheapest cost.
  • Since we’d never experienced a summer break like this before and June is young and early in her elementary school career, I erred on the side of more “programming.”
  • John and I have a good amount of flexibility in our jobs. We both work from home most of the time. John has some ability to set his own schedule. I work part-time (this summer, from 9-3, Monday-Friday). We have worked toward our current situation over many years, in part with elementary-school summers in mind.
  • Start making plans early, if possible. I booked her first camp in November of last year.

The week-by-week schedule

Here’s how our rising first grader spent her summer break:

  • Week One: Farm camp. Outside all day with lots of chances for water play, stomping in the creek, getting dirty, crafts, visiting animals, etc. The hours allowed me to shift my time slightly to accommodate pick up and drop off.
  • Week Two: The original plan for this week was to have one of our babysitters come in the morning to hang with June and then leave her to her own devices in the afternoon. However, it turns out my parents came to visit, so she and my Mom had fun (mostly reading, playing pretend, and running errands I never get around to, ha!).
  • Week Three: Our town’s parks and rec tennis camp. It was a half day program, so John or I picked her up on our “lunch break” and she hung out at home (mostly in her room, reading or playing) in the afternoon.
  • Week Four: Michigan!
  • Week Five: A beloved high school babysitter came from 9am-1pm. They went to the pool, they played pretend, they played with American Girl dolls, they got Crumbl cookies and went to Chick-fil-a for lunch on Friday… one-on-one attention for four hours a day with one of her favorite people in the world?! You bet this was one of June’s favorite weeks.
  • Week Six: VBS. The church was in downtown Raleigh and the camp was only from 9-12, so to cut out some travel time I “coworked” with Lisa, who lives about 5 minutes away from the church. For these two former coworkers, it was a sweet excuse to get in a few hours tapping away again side-by-side!
  • Week Seven: Back to farm camp.
  • Week Eight: Maine!
  • Week Nine: Connecticut! John and I worked remotely this week from his parents’ home while the kids hung with their grandparents. They swam multiple times a day, ran around the yard, rode bikes, went to the aquarium, read, and played a lot of Wii Sports, ha.
  • Week Ten: A local music and art camp. The hours easily fit within my work schedule. This was also one of her favorite weeks, and I think it was mostly because a good friend from school attended with her.
  • Week Eleven: This was a free week. It was the last week before school started, and I kind of ran out of planning steam, ha. It ended up being sweet and hopefully a prelude to what future summers might look more like: she spent hours playing outside with neighborhood friends and reading, and then on Friday (after I had switched to my new schedule), she and I spent the day together as a last hurrah before the first day of school.

Throughout the summer, she took swim lessons about once a week at our neighborhood pool.

A few reflections on this first summer

The bullet points seem to be working, so we’re just going to go with them :)

  • The logistics were a lot, but not overwhelming. I’m good at logistics! They don’t bother me! (See: prioritize what matters most to you. Logistical simplicity might matter most to some, but that wasn’t high on the list for me.)
  • I was wowed by June’s ability to walk into new experiences and environments week after week, usually not knowing anyone, and to make new friends – all without hesitation. This is so far from what I would have been capable of at her age.
  • At the end of summer, June said summer felt short. This was a bit disappointing to me, because part of my desire was to facilitate a summer that felt long – leisurely and somewhat boring. But I wonder if adults only say childhood summers felt long in reflection? I also know that the segmentation of her summer probably contributed to this, and we will likely be able to back off the programming and incorporate more boredom as she gets older :)
  • I think she will have more opinions about how she wants to spend her time next year, which makes me both excited and a bit nervous, ha! I’m looking forward to crafting a plan with her now that she’s experienced different options, but it also was pleasingly simple to make the decisions solo.
  • This was one summer. It was a good one, and it provided some learning opportunities. Everything is on the table in future years when we have more elementary-school kids and/or our work schedules are different!

And there you have it! As always, I could write many more paragraphs, but I’ll leave it there for now :) In closing, though, I wanted to add this: I know summers can be challenging for working parents: the logistics can be stressful, the clash between what you want and what’s possible can be frustrating or emotional. Maybe you feel pressure to facilitate a certain kind of summer for your child. Maybe this is the time of year when you really wish your work situation were different. However you’re reading this, I hope you’re able to be gentle with yourself and to find the good in your summer circumstances – I’m positive it’s there. You’re doing a great job.

P.S. This is one of those posts where I am truly not sure if it’s helpful at all. If nothing else, it will be a fun record for me to look back on, but if this was helpful, I’d love to hear it! Grateful for you all!

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September 7, 2022 8:26 am

These are wonderful reflections and motivated me to do some reflecting on my own kids’ summers as this felt like our first working parents/elementary kids summer (they’re in K and 2nd but due to the pandemic, our last couple summers have been a lot less intentional and a lot more survival). We strive for a similar balance of creative time for kids and focused work time for parents and I know it will evolve as they grow!

September 7, 2022 8:26 am

This was very helpful!!! After deciding to continue working after our baby is born, one of the hesitations I have had is how our children will still get a summer experience that is somewhat similar to what my husband and I experienced with stay at home moms. I don’t hear it talked about much but I loved seeing that there are activities and options to include some of that summer leisure. I would love to hear more about how you incorporated summer activities or downtime into the early years while they were still at daycare too. Thanks!

Kelly Strawberry
September 7, 2022 9:10 am

Having a kid the same age at a traditional school makes it relevant to me and I loved reading all of your ideas! I’ve chosen to send Cam to a summer day camp nearby (with the exception of one week for vacation) for the past two summers. I love that they are outside literally all day, and at the pool the entire afternoon. He is exhausted each day! It ends two weeks before school starts, so for those two weeks he has to do his own thing while I work from home.

September 7, 2022 9:30 am

This was incredibly helpful – thank you! As someone who attended day-long summer camp growing up, and now lives in a part of the country where that is just not really a thing that is offered, I have been prematurely overwhelmed by needing to plan for this once my 3-year old starts school in a few years. Seeing it broken down like this & hearing about you all’s considerations/goals is amazing!

September 7, 2022 9:46 am

While I don’t have kids yet, I found this post SO helpful and inspirational! I’d be hoping summer would be the same things for my kids (and for me too outside of work honestly!) I love seeing how you tackle these things in real life.
Thanks for, once again, laying out the details and generously sharing!

September 7, 2022 10:00 am

Thank you for sharing! I love your thoughtful approach. It’s also a reminder to start thinking/planning for next summer NOW! Honestly though, as a two fulltime-working-outside-the-home parent family, I feel like all the posts/memes/articles are centered around routines and activities for keeping your children occupied at home all day. This can make me feel like my kids are missing out and does not offer encouragement for alternatives. My kids are in K and 3rd and I feel this was our last summer with our beloved sitter (she mostly has kids under 5 and I feel we have outgrown her). I also hadn’t considered how they would handle a changing schedule so this will also be something to keep in mind, especially for my youngest. I really like the framework you used and your approach that is not just about what is available. So many good points to think of as we embark on our first sitter-free summer next year!

Kristen M
September 7, 2022 11:15 am

This is great to see it broken down like this – it’s interesting to see how a traditional summer could look. To offer an alternate perspective for any local parents who have kids on the year round calendar (and two working parents) – we just started 1st grade on Track 4 in the same school district and I approach our trackouts with a similar mindset (I loved my summers growing up but I do have to say having 3-4 weeks off in April and Oct in NC is downright dreamy plus we still get all of July for a 5 week summer!) I feel I’m still learning the best method of taking advantage of the schedule.
Our trackouts typically involve at least one family trip; a week or two of her choice of camps (cooking camp, nature camp, children’s museum camp, local town park program camp, and a swim camp have all been included on the list); and then the rest of the time is filled with days I take off, or spending with local grandparents and aunts and uncles – we have a lot of local family which is a huge help.
Last Jan we did a week at a cabin in the mountains and did snow tubing and hiking and other exploring with zero crowds! We have also done long weekends trips and in July we did long trips to the beach and mtns. This Oct we are doing long weekends to DC and the mtns and then my daughter will do 1 week of camp and thanks to my flexible schedule and lots of family nearby she’ll be doing fun days with various extended family members, plus we’ll fit in the fair and a trip to a pumpkin patch. Another perk of year round that I’ve found is the trackout camps don’t fill up nearly as fast so I have more time to book them (her summer camps I booked in Feb! but I am still working to book her Oct. camp for example).

September 8, 2022 12:29 pm
Reply to  Kristen M

Loved this perspective, Kristen — we also have the option for year-round or traditional school, so I’m glad to see a glimpse at both kinds of summers. My son is only 4 months old, but in true enneagram 5 fashion, I have also been thinking about this for years ????

September 7, 2022 11:22 am

I absolutely love hearing how you thought through this. I’m in a similar boat and have my son in Kindergarten this year. I’ve been cultivating my career to allow for flexibility since I was pregnant with him. Love hearing your journey, love this post, love and appreciate you sharing your life. Thank you!
Would love to know how screen time / tv is working for your family right now, especially as June gets older if you’re willing to share!

September 7, 2022 11:44 am

All of your posts that end in a disclaimer of “I’m not sure if this is helpful” are always some of my favorite posts! So when you question that, just know…. this post will help at least one random woman who lives in Memphis! Ha!
The thought and intention you put into decisions is one of my favorite topics to read. It helps me clarify so much of the jumble going on in my head. You and Kendra Adachi (The Lazy Genius) are my favorites for this.
My daughter is only 2, but I’m tucking this away for the future – I literally have several of your blogs printed out and saved to refer back to in a few years.

September 7, 2022 1:53 pm

I don’t work outside the home and my kid definitely had that long lazy boring summer that probably a lot of us had as kids. Just wanted to say that there are cons to that as well. I very intentionally stay at home so that he and my younger two can have experiences like that, but it does come with sacrifices. For example, we are on a tight budget and don’t have money for trips! So, June might not ever get that kind of summer you remember, but it sounds like she had a great time and got to do some fun things that probably wouldn’t be possible if you didn’t work. What you said about choosing what priorities are right for your family is so true, and it’s ok and healthy to grieve the “what might have been” while still knowing you made the right choice. Sometimes I feel like I know I can’t have it all, but I want my kids to have it all. It’s just not possible, and they are the better for it!

Kate R
September 7, 2022 2:44 pm

I LOVE this post. You guys are a couple of years ahead of us, and posts like this always help to get my gears turning for the future. I also appreciate the post from Kristen about how to handle year-long school schedules — that sounds practically perfect to me!

September 7, 2022 9:00 pm

I don’t have kids yet but I thoroughly enjoy soaking up insight, tips and tricks about kids that I can implement in the (hopefully near) future. This post was especially so helpful! I will definitely not be a stay at home mum and I am already so anxious for the summer years, wanting to spend time with them and give them the childhood summers I had, all whilst working full time. This has inspired me to start planning many years ahead (I am not a planner and logistics are so hard for me)!. Thank you for your time on this post and all your other very helpful posts :)

September 8, 2022 10:40 am

Thanks so much for this thorough post, Em. I love that you broke out the number of weeks that you had to work with and incorporated your values into how you planned for the summer. My little one is only 13 months but how he will spend future summer breaks is already on my mind. Saving this post to prepare well ahead!

September 8, 2022 11:17 am

Thanks for sharing. My circle of friends are all just starting off with having kids, with two working parents, so it’s not discussed much what we are supposed to do with the kids during their school summers. And I already know, my daughter’s school summers will look different from mine. My mom was a SAHM for more than a decade, and when she did return to work, she became a school counselor. So we always had one parent at home with us during summer. I love the summer you planned for June. I don’t know if it was because my mom was always home with us or because we never asked, but my sisters and I didn’t do camps (even sleep away). We did VBS for one week each summer, but in my opinion that’s not the same thing. We definitely did have good summers, even without camps, and trust me…plenty of boredom (Which I think was easier to manufacture during our low-tech, millennial childhoods) LOL. But I was also the little girl living vicariously through Lindsey Lohan’s character in the Parent Trap, piercing her twin’s ear in the isolation cabin at camp :D

September 9, 2022 3:04 pm

I was really looking forward to this blog post! I get asked this question all the time (by my German friends and family): How do families do it with such a long summer break and so little PTO? (For reference: in Germany employees get between 24 and 30 days of PTO and our summer break is 6 weeks long.)
Since I’m self-employed I get to make my own schedule and can work around school breaks and a lot of my friends here are either SAHMs, teachers or have older kids. So, I really didn’t have a good answer to how working parents do summers.
This is my long answer to say: Your post was helpful! Ha! Thanks for taking the time to write it!

May 22, 2024 3:59 pm

My son is only 16 months old but this is really helpful framing! As I watch my colleagues navigate this (and as my husband and I navigate childcare in a new city) the thought of our situation in a few years is daunting. Really appreciate the write-up