Summer is supposed to be a time of freedom — from school, schedules, and homework. But the cultural expectation of a sort of Tom Sawyer-esque idyll for children can feel like a downright fantasy when you’re a working mom. In short, the kind of school-sports-sitter-what-have-you structure that kids are so excited to be free from is the exact kind of structure that working moms (especially the single ones) depend on in order to do their jobs. And that’s before the financial burden (and emotional labor) of patching together eight or so weeks of care that’s equivalent to the school/work day. All these pressures and stress have led to a phenomenon that one writer has dubbed “mom guilt season.”
Megan Brammeier, whose blog is devoted to “surviving chaos on laughter and lukewarm coffee,” recently penned a post that is gaining traction among the internet mom hordes. In it, she admits that even the sound of an ice cream truck can bring tears to her eyes when she thinks about what it means to be a working mom during the summer months.
While she starts her post saying she hates dividing working and stay-at-home moms (“We all work hard and we all care for our homes”), she writes that summer is a time when she especially struggles as a working mother. Plenty of parents can relate to that “summer dread” Brammeier discusses — as she and her husband scramble to fill their children’s schedules with expensive camps and childcare coverage. But Brammeier explains her stress goes deeper than that.
“Because my mom stayed home most of my childhood, I remember lazy mornings being able to bum around, and roaming the neighborhood until the street lights came on,” she explains, “There was a certain carefreeness that came along with the extra hours of sunshine, calming chirp of grasshoppers and glow of lightning bugs that I long for my kids to experience.”
But now, as a mom with a job outside the home, Brammeier has to find other (arguably fewer and further between) ways to make summer feel special: namely, on weekends and evenings. Of course, that just creates another form of pressure: to relax as much as possible in the limited time available.
Brammeier is far from the first to lament what summer can mean for working moms. Maria Shriver, a working mom with considerable social and financial capital, even once complained in 2009 that summer “is almost more stressful than everything else in the entire school year for my family.” And she is one of the lucky ones. Poor and even middle class working moms might not find themselves able to place their kids in any or many structured weekday programs, leaving them to shoulder the burden of a full-time caretaker on top of a full-time job.
Aside from the slog of having your kid at home all day while you work from home or managing a carousel of activities, there is the sense that summer is going to be a hell of a lot different for your kid growing up than it was for you. And maybe that’s because the number of mothers with children under 18 in the workforce is rising, according to the Pew Research Center. That means more women, like Brammeier, who were raised by stay-at-home moms, may find their child’s summers look drastically different from the happy summers of their own youth.
But “different” doesn’t have to mean “bad.” While there are plenty of articles imploring parents to allow their children to have the “home by dark” type of summer of yesteryear, there’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that they’re fine without it, too. Summer camps show a myriad of benefits for kids. And studies have often looked at the benefits of year-round school and pegged the summer months as the cause of a learning loss as high as 30 percent. Keeping kids in more structured environments, while not the same as school, could be seen as a stopgap to that.
But larger than the question of these next few weeks, studies have shown that having a working mom can have real benefits for kids in the long run. And yes, that’s even in June, July, and August. Just give yourself permission to re-read that study whenever you feel a pang of guilt this summer.