I always get a bit panicked when the kids get out of school for the summer. School brings structure and routine, which I value, and our summer life does not include much structure.
Sunday morning I met a new person at church, Michelle. Michelle works at a high level in her career — from home, with older kids and a three year old. Imagining her life momentarily, I asked her if her older kids help out with the younger one. “I have a nanny,” she said. Then she shared that she spends a lot of time on the phone and her little one will stand outside the french doors of her office to peer through, looking for her to get off the phone. Michelle said she’ll give her daughter a wave or thumbs up and she’ll open the door and come in for a hug.
Since returning to work in 2009, when my kids were 8, 5, and 2, I’ve never had a nanny. Instead, I’ve had intermittent sitters, for chunks of time, and intermittent household help. In the early years, I had more sitters, often of the mother’s helper variety: young teenagers. In the later years, I’ve had more household help. Now that my kids are 14, 11, and 8, I don’t really need childcare. I can leave them at home for a couple of hours at a time to go to the office and when I come home, everyone and everything is mostly intact. If I’m honest, I feel guilty about the household help; my kids should be able to help out with many day to day tasks.
But despite years of reminders, my kids still interrupt me when I’m on the phone. They need a lot of prodding to help around the house and often wait until I’m done with work for the day, despite my popping out of the office intermittently to remind them of their chores.
We recently leased office space, so members of my team who used to work in my home are now working at the office, even though I am working primarily at home. Imagine this with me, will you? What it looked like in past years: co-workers working in my home over the summer, with kids and their friends, in and out. I’m not sure how I ever managed the distractions and chaos. This year, instead of holding company meetings in my dining room, I leave home to meet people at the office.
I still feel a little overwhelmed, or perhaps slightly anxious, about the long weeks and days of summer, with my kids home and their hours of unstructured time. The overwhelm is wondering how I’ll get it all done: work and keeping our home together. The anxiety is wanting the kids to have a good summer: very little screen time, a balance of time to be with friends, lots of reading, a few chores.
As my kids grow, each summer gets a little easier. So far, everyone seems happy this year. The kids make their own lunches, happily, which is good because I rarely have time to stop for lunch. They can swim well, which means I can take calls by the pool while keeping watch from the patio. I only rarely hear the typical kid cry of summer (I’m bored.) And I’m happier, too. Summer means freedom from the early morning hustle of getting the girls ready and out the door to school. 6 am is the perfect time to set out for a run in summer. The air is cool; the girls are still in bed; it’s bright enough outside; the traffic is light. During the school year, 6 am is packing lunches, helping pack school bags, and making breakfast.
I wonder how other mothers manage summer, work, and kids. I see team members struggling to cobble together childcare and camps. I know the pressure to get it all done and still enjoy family time. I’m always curious to listen for how other people manage life in summer to see what I can learn from others.
There doesn’t seem to be any easy or perfect solution for anyone, although every summer holds some (nearly) perfect days. Perhaps, if each summer I can say my kids are happy and I’m happy, too, that’s enough to call it a good —even great —summer.