Ask any work-at-home parents about summertime, and they’ll likely have mixed emotions about their work-life balance. Summer comes with days spent at the pool, nights chasing lightning bugs, and the opportunity for extra family time. In the same breath, summer also equals disrupted routines, parent-guilt for not “doing enough,” and the opportunity to get distracted from the day’s work tasks at any moment.
There are both benefits and challenges of working from home year-round, but summer break brings a special kind of anticipation knowing your children will be home for an extended period of time—and we’re here for it! But we know plenty of working parents are just like us and need a plan of action for these long summer days. Whether you’re simply trying to get through it, want to make the most of it, or are looking to find your footing somewhere in between, these tips from a real-life-working-from-home-mom may provide some help. At the very least, you’ll know you’re not alone in your dread for summer and desire to rise above it … at least sometimes … for the kids.
(Pro tip: If you don’t already have a designated work space, now is a good time to create a home office. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but gating off a room with a chair and a folding table is better than trying to work from your kitchen island amongst the noise and chaos.)
The basis of any good plan involves solid communication, so everyone knows what to expect, and there are fewer hiccups along the way.
Talk to your partner.
Your regular day-to-day changes during the summer months, but your role at work will stay the same. To remedy the inevitable overlap of schedules and obligations, have a conversation with your partner about what you need to get the jobs done.
If you need to put in a few hours before the office opens, see if they can be on solo breakfast duty; if you know Tuesdays are always packed with Zoom meetings, discuss your partner’s ability to help make premade lunches or set up a few activities before heading out. The goal is to understand your roles and how to assist one another with the added responsibility and stress of having the kids home from school. Once you know what the expectations are, you both will be able to better meet each other’s needs and offer real support.
Talk to your boss.
After hatching a plan with your partner, you’ll hopefully have a better understanding of what your workflow will look like each day. Communicate to your supervisor any changes to your schedule (such as camp pickup times or penciled-in family days) and be open to feedback. It’s likely your boss (and co-workers) also have fluctuating summer schedules and vacation plans and will be understanding of the need for some flexibility, as long as work duties are accomplished in a timely manner.
Create a Summer Schedule
This is important for a number of reasons, including your mental health and general well-being.
First, a schedule—when followed—protects the time you have set aside for work. Like a budget, a schedule tells you how much time you’re spending in a certain area and can help make the day more predictable and (fingers crossed) productive.
If you plan to work during naptime, put it in ink and resist the temptation to do the dishes. If you know Wednesdays are peppered with staggered swimming lessons and a weekly trip to the library, dedicate a chunk of hours to work post-bedtime and try to relax. It’s when we try to do both full-time parenting and work at the same time to max-capacity that we get maxed-out. It may not be your ideal schedule, but it’s your roadmap to being available in both areas.
Next, a schedule helps eliminate questioning, which is huge in parenting, no matter the season. Questions like, “Can I have a snack?” or “How much longer until I can have screen time?” are more easily answered when there’s a designated time for the day’s activities, similarly to when they’re in school.
An example daily schedule could include:
Breakfast – 7:30 a.m.
Get dressed – 8 a.m.
Art/craft – 8:30 a.m.
Snack – 10 a.m.
Naptime – 10:30 a.m.
Lunch – 12 p.m.
Outside play – 1 p.m.
TV/screen/quiet time – 2 p.m.
Snack – 3 p.m.
Activity – 3:30 p.m.
Free time – 4 p.m. till end of the day
Of course, your personal schedule will reflect your family’s needs, capacity, and preferences, but this is a simple framework for how the workday can be structured. When your kiddos inevitably ask about playing video games for the millionth time, you can refer to the schedule to answer their questions without having to think about it. This will hopefully remove stress from your day and eventually, your kids will know what to expect and may better embrace the given activity knowing their day will include variety.
Another thing to consider is making a “summer list” with your children of things they would like to do during their break, such as make homemade popsicles or go to the lake. These activities can be plugged in when possible and will provide a sense of doing something together that’s seasonal and special. (We also love a good list for the sole reason of crossing things off. It feels good to see a visual representation of your time and effort.)
Manage Emotions and Expectations
Throughout the duration of the summer, remember that you’re only human … so treat yourself like one.
While it’s important to schedule blocks of work-time, it’s also important to have a point in the day you set aside just for being a present parent. Whether that’s a no-phone dinnertime or a break in the afternoon where you join your kiddos for an episode of “Sesame Street,” knowing you have that designated time will go a long way in avoiding parent guilt.
Ditch the guilt.
We know it’s easier said than done, but be a friend to yourself and offer reassurance that you’re doing the best you can in a difficult situation. No one can do it all alone, and the standard of summertime fun is grossly exaggerated thanks to sharing platforms like Instagram. The memories you make are special. The activities you arrange are enough. You are enough (and irreplaceable!) for your family. Period.
Protect your energy.
You only have so much to give, right? So pause to think about whether or not it’s worth telling the kids to stop jumping on the couch or to clean up their art supplies (again). This drains your energy and can increase the feeling of being out of control. While order and instructions are valuable, it may be beneficial to adopt a different standard during the summer. Perhaps you have one big cleanup at the end of the day versus after each activity, or maybe you only interject to say no or provide explanation when absolutely necessary. (Also, saying no less often leads to less questioning about why something is off-limits.) It may not work for everyone, but it’s worth a try if you find you’re always feeling on edge.
Prepare for Burnout and Boredom
Both are inevitable, but here are things that can help.
It can be a walk. It can be an hour in the morning where you drink your coffee and the kids do chalk on the driveway. Whatever you do, being outside has the power to ground you quickly and help remind you that life is bigger than your current work task in your home that feels suffocating. Go get some vitamin D. It really does wonders.
Stock the kitchen.
Have quality snacks on-hand and, if possible, prep some produce before the day gets started. This will prevent you from being pulled away from your computer to chop strawberries and watermelon, and it also provides the makings of an easy lunch. (Because let’s face it: Kid meals are often a collection of snacks anyway, right?) If your kiddos are a bit more self-sufficient, you can also leave the day’s snack options somewhere easily accessible for even fewer interruptions.
Have go-to home activities.
This can be one of the hardest parts to implement when you’re short on extra time and already feeling the pressure, so rely on the help of others to provide realistic inspiration and step-by-step guides.
Accounts like Busy Toddler (@busytoddler) are a wealth of knowledge for parents needing a range of projects to keep kids entertained through engaging activities. With a “simple works great, too” motto and a penchant for less-fancy-more-makeshift projects, Busy Toddler and similar resources can do the heavy lifting of coming up with fun ideas to try. Here are a few worth noting that require minimal setup:
DIY Mud Kitchen: No need to splurge on a pricy outdoor mud kitchen. Grab a few bins, measuring cups, and utensils, and send your mini chefs outside.
Outdoor Toy Painting: You read that right, but the washable paint rinses off using a hose and offers more longevity than other painting projects.
Color Bath: This is a great idea to have on-hand for rainy days or afternoons that feel like they’re dragging. Your kids can help gather the specific color of toys and will get a kick out of dying their bathtub water, too.
If these ideas still feel a bit involved, that’s OK! Get a few bins, fill them with activity books, appropriate art supplies, and games, and tell your kids to be in charge of their own entertainment. (That’s some real-life application, in our opinion.) And remember moms, dads, and caregivers alike, this is just a season and you will get through it in one piece. Good luck!