I didn’t make a Pinterest board about imaginative things to do this summer with the kids at our lake house. Likewise, I won’t be needing any listicles detailing the most over-the-top care packages to take to visiting day at my child’s sleep-away camp. Guides to the hippest road trips won’t be necessary either, and if I see one more article about how to create the most magical summer of all time for my child, I’m definitely going to scream. Except I’m going to scream silently and into my elbow, because if I start yelling at work, I might get fired.
There’s no lake house in my life – at least, not yet, because a girl can dream. I can’t imagine being able to afford sleep-away camp. We are going on a road trip, but it’ll be pretty far from hip. We’re going to a family wedding and the price of plane tickets that week is astronomical. I hate to break it to my daughter, but this summer is probably not going to the most magical one of all time. I mean, I’ll do my best. I’ll put in a good effort, but the truth is…I have to work.
Summer’s not an ocean breeze for working moms. We try hard to make it as fun as we can for our children, often hiding our own stress and anxiety from them, but inside we’re secretly freaking out about how the heck we’re going to afford another week of day camp (and not the fancy one) so that childcare is covered while school’s out. Don’t even mention the guilt.
I feel terrible because I want to carve baskets out of watermelons, pick strawberries, and catch fireflies in Mason jars. I want to wake up early, pile everyone into the car and spend a long, lazy, unplanned day at the beach making sandcastles and boogie boarding. Elaborate fantasies about homemade popsicles, slip n slides, and mermaid parties fill my mind, with every rainy afternoon spent wandering through museums, but I’ve got deadlines to meet. I can’t blow them off, because those due dates mean grocery money. We have to wake up early, not to get the best parking spot at the boardwalk, but because I have to drop off my child in time to make it onto the Interstate to creep through rush hour gridlock and get to work on time.
Some days I have to work at six in the morning. Other times I’m on the night shift and I don’t get home until way past bedtime. Days off, I work on freelance articles. I have to do this or we’re stuck eating rice and beans and the car never gets that much-needed body work. This isn’t a choice I’m making, it’s an absolute necessity that I work as much as humanly possible. Trust me, the first windfall I get and I’m a stay-at-home mom too. I swear, I’ll be all over the Pinterest projects. At my lake house.
It’s hard for me not to get down on myself about having to work so much during the summers, but I try not to dwell on the decisions that led me to this place, the sheer bad luck I may have encountered, or the fact that our society just doesn’t make it easy for families to survive on one income anymore. Life isn’t easy for most people, and I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only mom doing my best while guilt eats away at me because my child wastes too much time in front of the TV and there’s not much I can do about it, because I have got to get this story done yesterday so I can get paid.
In all honesty, I’m not sure if my daughter is having the most magical summer of all time, but what does that even mean? Kids have lower expectations than adults anyway. Case in point: I stressed out and felt terrible because a few times this summer I didn’t have childcare and had to take my daughter to work with me for a few hours. I was convinced she was suffering. She thought it was the coolest thing ever, and a neat thing she gets to do in the summer because there’s no school.
Acceptance is key. This is my life right now, and it’s not bad. Beating myself up, however, would make this summer miserable for everyone, so that’s banned. I’m not going to focus too much on what I don’t have, because I actually have a lot. I’m going to dedicate whatever free time I do have to my family. I may not have as much time as I wish, but I can carve out an hour or two each day. I have evenings. I have some free time most weekends.
During the summers, we working moms have to avoid comparing ourselves to other people on social media and imagining how they have it better (they probably don’t). Our summer activities just have to be chosen mindfully. I may not be able to take a spur of the moment trip to the water park today, but if I knock off my to-do list, we can definitely run in the sprinkler and make those cute, blue gelatin, gummy shark cups from that video online.
Small moments can add up. We can drive down to the pier and eat ice cream near the beach some weeknight after dinner. I’ll get up earlier, knock some writing out before my shift starts, so that in the afternoon we can go swimming, or practice learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. It doesn’t take a long time to throw together my favorite frozen pie recipe with my daughter and, since there’s no school, we can stretch bedtime in order to play a board game or just hang out together on the back porch.
Working moms can still create beautiful summer memories. They just have to be a bit more intentional. We have to plan for them, but that doesn’t make them any less lovely.