For parents, the end of the school year is one of the busiest times of the year. In the midst of the school picnics, the award ceremonies, and other special activities, there is a mix of emotions in the hearts of parents everywhere.
On the one hand, there is excitement over the extra time to spend with our kids: afternoons spent at the pool, trips to the beach, a break from homework and the strict routine of school days. Experiencing the simple joy of summer through your children is a special experience.
But at the same time, there is a rush of anxiety, guilt, and worry. For many of us, there is childcare to arrange, an endeavor that is both costly and time consuming. For the uninitiated, the selection of summer activities begins early in the year (before they all fill up) by combing through camp activities and sports offerings and tactfully arranging trips to grandma’s house.
The budgeting for this process usually triggers an internal debate on the financial sense of working at all. Families can easily spend thousands of dollars per child on summer camps, activities and childcare.
I may feel this anxiety more acutely because I am a work-at-home mom (WAHM). During the school year, I’m usually able to balance childcare and work on my own, although it’s not always pretty. But, I’m also acutely aware that for many North Carolina families, neither adding the expense of summer childcare nor taking time off work are realistic options. I can only imagine the stress and worry that these families experience as summer approaches.
The moment I put the last piece into our puzzle of a summer schedule, then the guilt and the craziness creep in. Maybe it’s just me, but I always have completely unrealistic expectations of the time I spend with my kids, especially during summer. I blame Facebook and Pinterest.
First of all, I feel like if they are not involved in some camp or activity, I should be spending every minute with them, planning outings, making crafts and “making memories” – whatever that means. I start thinking of all the museums we should visit; I try to remember the last time we painted something (hint, it was when my 3.5 year old was an infant); I make lists of the skills the kids need to work on over the summer. I mentally plan play dates with all the kids’ friends.
Even though I know better, because I’ve been doing this parenting thing for 6 years now, I can stop the images of perfectly planned days and happy children, appreciative of all the fun that we are having. And, that’s where the guilt comes in… because it NEVER happens that way. NEVER. Those idealistic plans just don’t materialize. We run out of time; I need more time to work; or we just get tired of each other.
I’m left feeling like I’m doing something wrong – whether the kids are entertaining themselves, watching a movie on TV or chasing each other around the house – because I’m not engaged enough, not spending enough time with them.
A new study shows that my guilt is misplaced. The first large-scale longitudinal study of parent time shows that the amount of time parents spend with kids between ages 3 and 11 has basically no impact on children’s academic achievement, behavior or emotional well-being. What can have an impact, a harmful one, is time spent with moms who are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.
So, the take-away is that it is time to relax, enjoy the summer and let myself off the hook a good bit. As one of my son’s wise teachers said, “Let the kids be kids.”
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.