For Working Parents, Summer Is Anything But Carefree

It’s a childcare headache of massive proportions.

Stressed working parents struggling during summer to find childcare Serhii Yevdokymov, Karolina Grabowska, Mikhail Nilov, Jonathan Petersson | Canva, Schedule | Courtesy of Author

The final countdown to summer has begun. My children are giddy. Ten weeks glimmer ahead of them, weeks that will entail generous doses of sand and chlorine and popsicles. Evenings that linger. Bare feet and the crackle of campfires.

When I was a child, my parents shared in the giddiness, too. They were both teachers. For them, summer also meant a well-deserved break, a change in rhythm, a chance to recuperate from nine intensive months of corralling, comforting, confronting, and coaching dozens upon dozens of children while also attending to their snot, blood, and tears.


It never occurred to me that when I grew up, I might lose summer. Not that summer would disappear altogether, but that it would merely present itself with the same lack of fanfare as any other season. Maybe I could coax out a weeklong vacation or a weekend trip, but my daily routine would remain more or less the same. So would my weekday wardrobe, as office buildings, I would soon learn, are typically chilled to temperatures that require winter sweaters.

Fresh out of college, as the realities of the working world were dawning on me, I was determined to claim my last summer. My sister and I embarked on a five-week journey to South America, and as we jostled in the backs of buses over dirt roads, I vaguely wondered if these were the last five consecutive weeks of freedom I’d enjoy for the foreseeable future.


They were. A year later, I experienced my first summer-not-summer. Work and more work. In between bartending shifts, I spent most of my weekend hours on roads choked with traffic, trying to get to the beach so I could feel the sand between my toes. Come Monday morning, it was back to work.

Still, though, summer came with small freedoms. On weekends, I could let my breasts jiggle braless in tank tops and sundresses. I could let my toes wiggle outside the confines of socks and winter boots. I could let my limbs, so used to tensing against the cold, settle and stretch during morning jogs, afternoon walks, and evening drinks on stoops and porches.

In my young adult years, summer still had a carefree way about it, even if my day-to-day routine remained largely unchanged.

Then one June, a few months shy of my 27th birthday, the boy who would become my stepson arrived on a plane from Rhode Island, and summer was never the same.


RELATED: The Simple Secret To Making Summer More Fun & Less Stressful

Don’t get me wrong — I loved summers with my stepson. He motivated me to explore the city pools, exploited my weakness for ice cream, and engaged us in lively evening games. It was a welcome respite from the blur of happy hours and adult chatter of which I was growing increasingly weary, from the world of self-involved young professionals who fancied themselves worldly and wise.

But months before his arrival that first summer, I found myself seized by panic: What was he going to do during the week? My partner was working as a paramedic at the time and had an occasional weekday at home, but he needed those days to stock up on sleep for his next 24-hour shift. I typically left for work around 8 a.m. and returned home around 7 p.m., dutifully fulfilling the minimum number of viable hours that an ambitious person in Washington, D.C. had to work to prove their commitment and potential.

It was hard enough to find summer camps that let out later than 3 p.m., and even those with before-care and after-care options only allowed for an 8.5-hour workday, at best. Plus, most camps were already full. I’d started my search in April, not realizing that registration for the “good” camps opens in February and typically fills up within days.

@sheisapaigeturner Replying to @Kelsey Butler summer camp registration is probably one of the hardest things that I have to do all year. Signing up for summer camp is so hard and surprisingly just as expensive as daycare. ##summercamp##summercampregistration##millennialmoms##workingmom##summercamps ♬ original sound - Paige

I eventually found a semi-viable, somewhat affordable, moderately convenient option. But each subsequent summer presented the same headaches, the same scrambles, the same logistical puzzles.

Then I had two kids of my own. Each February, I began to experience a gnawing sense of dread. I knew that other mothers — and yes, it was nearly all mothers, most of us with full-time jobs — were already scooping up spots in the “good” camps, but I couldn’t afford the “good” camps. So I waited and worried.

As cherry blossoms and daffodils burst into bloom, the countdown began. The blossoms fell, carpeting the sidewalks; the daffodils withered and drooped. Week by week, I painstakingly pieced together the summer, mapping out who would be where, who would be dropping off whom, and who would have to request which hours off work to do a mid-afternoon pick-up.


Then, of course, there was the question of paying for it all — the thousands upon thousands of dollars we would have to bleed out for the privilege of continuing to work.

Kerala Taylor's notes for summer 2023 The Scribbles of Summer 2023 | Photo by author

RELATED: Chick-fil-A Offers A Summer Camp For Young Kids And People Are Confused — ‘The Kids Pay $35 To Work There?’


This is the first summer that I haven’t signed up my children for any camps, and I am filled with an impending sense of dread. My daughter, a rising 7th-grader, says she’s too old for camps, and truth be told, I simply didn’t get it together for my son.

I work from home now, and it would be different if there were children reliably running up and down our street. Then I could just send them out to play. It’s not that I’m worried about them being bored. A healthy dose of summer boredom can breed creativity and curiosity, but these positive effects can only be realized in environments rich with play opportunities — including, crucially, other children.

I often think of movies I grew up with, like The Sandlot, in which a family moves to a new house during the summer and the boy simply gloms on to a gaggle of neighborhood kids. The parents signed him up for no camps, and like so many parents in the 1960s, they didn’t seem to know where he was most of the time. But they didn’t care as long as he was home in time for dinner.

I’d happily give my children that summer and my son has recently found a new neighborhood crew, so maybe there’s hope. But most kids in the neighborhood are either inside with their screens or getting carted to and from camp. As families have become more isolated, the logistical burden of childcare has only increased — and it’s a burden that falls disproportionately on women.


RELATED: Men Can Do Everything Women Can Do (That Includes Invisible And Emotional Labor)

In her seminal and unfortunately still very relevant article, “Why Women Can’t Have it All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter shares this story:

My longtime and invaluable assistant, who has a doctorate and juggles many balls as the mother of teenage twins, e-mailed me while I was working on this article: “You know what would help the vast majority of women with work/family balance? MAKE SCHOOL SCHEDULES MATCH WORK SCHEDULES.”

I would also propose a parallel all-caps plea: MAKE WORK SCHEDULES MATCH SCHOOL SCHEDULES.

Even with occasionally available year-round school options, which are used in 4% of schools, working parents still have to navigate two-week breaks every 45 days, and often these breaks fall during times when camps or childcare aren’t available because everyone else is in school.


Can we align both schedules so that parents — and yes, by parents, I still mean mostly mothers — aren’t spending a majority of their “free” hours piecing together childcare? And while we’re at it, can we collectively commit to re-creating “free range” neighborhoods where kids can roam at will?

Kids riding bikes Sergey Novikov / Shutterstock

This summer, I’m taking a luxurious two weeks off. But still, those weeks will involve suitcases and airplanes and extended family. I will feel persistent pressure to take advantage of every minute since I’m using half of my annual PTO (which is generous, by U.S. standards) and nothing can go wrong.


Of course, since summer now also means wildfires, extreme heat, and other natural disasters, something very likely will go wrong.

I’m looking forward to my two weeks off, but not with that same heady anticipation that I used to experience during the last few weeks of school. I haven’t felt that gentle flutter in my stomach, that welcome tingle in my fingers, since I was 21 years old.

I used to see those 10 summer weeks shimmering before me, wafting scents of sunscreen and sweat. Now those weeks appear in my mind’s eye as chaotic scribbles, half-done puzzles with pieces strewn about, tangled webs of drop-off destinations, flight numbers, and pick-up times.

At least there’s still ice cream.


RELATED: When I Chose Motherhood, I Didn’t Choose This

Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.