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What Do Working Moms Do in the Summer – 12 Practical Strategies

What do working moms do in the summer - mom and young girl laughing

February 13, 2023

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PRO TIP: There’re a lot of practical strategies in here that you can use to make every summer from here on out easier in terms of planning. If you don’t have time to read through and implement them right now, schedule 30 minutes in your calendar right now for when you will, and copy and paste the URL to this article in the calendar entry. If you want to keep going after 30 min, you can schedule more time in the same way!

Just when you think you’ve got childcare (somewhat) figured out, your oldest goes to a “real” school. Suddenly, you have no childcare coverage for a fourth of the year (typically, June, July, and at least part of August). And you find yourself reeling, thinking, “What do working moms do in the summer?

This was me this past year, so I crowdsourced strategies from the moms in my wonderful community of working women. No matter where you are in the process of figuring out your summer, this article has some useful strategies for you.

Just to be clear: these strategies can work for all working parents – female or male. Unfortunately, it seems to me that these childcare-coverage challenges still fall mostly to working moms to figure out. So, this article is written through that lens, but anyone can feel free to use these strategies. And more power to you if you want to send this article to your partner to have them take the lead on summer childcare planning (or at least understand all that goes into it). If you’re a dad, in a heterosexual couple, and you’re reading this, feel free to implement these strategies to take over this whole time- and brain-consuming process from your wife!

Alright, onto the strategies!

Summer Childcare Strategy #1: Start earlier than you’d think

Particularly if you think you’ll be relying on summer camps for childcare coverage, be aware that registrations can open up earlier than you might expect.

Around me, in Minnesota, summer day camp registrations open up in January and February. Someone I spoke to in another region in the US said camps around her open enrollment around November (!). And someone else mentioned that in-demand sleepaway camps often open registration the summer before for the following year.

All this to say, dig into the below strategies to figure out your plan months before you might think you need to.

πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: Once you figure out when enrollments typically open in your area (perhaps after talking to parents of older kids – see Strategy #3), calendar time (e.g., three one-hour blocks of time scattered over a two-week period) about a month before enrollments open to research camps and other options (see Strategy #2), reach out to friends (see Strategy #7), and more.

Summer Childcare Strategy #2: Understand your options

It’s worth taking a step back and understanding your broad options.

Here are broad categories that working moms raised, and you can always combine these or modify them to fit your needs:

  • One summer camp all summer long or for a significant portion of your summer;
  • A combination of specialty camps;
  • A nanny (e.g., a high school or college student), plus some activities and/or access to a pool or activity center; and/or
  • No childcare (assuming you’re a working parent, this probably is only an option for kids who are old enough to be somewhat self-sufficient – or your work is light in the summer).

Below are some notes on these summer options that working moms shared.

Summer Nanny

A nanny could be a great fit for you, particularly if you have multiple kids who need coverage and doubling up (or more) on camps becomes a financially crazy situation.

I personally plan to go the nanny route once both of my girls need summer coverage. Until then, with the 17mo in year-round daycare (and us being unable to pull her for the summer without losing her spot), it just makes more sense to put my oldest in camps for now. But I look forward to the day when we can do a nanny + some activities and leave more of their summer days unstructured and relaxed.

Another mom raised hiring 1-2 nannies to care for 2-3 houses’ worth of kids at the same time. This could be a fun quasi-camp option for you and your kids, especially if you have neighbors that need similar coverage. I’d just throw out there that you need to be okay with more activities at or around your home with this option (e.g., weather forces them all inside), so just think those logistics through, particularly if you work from home at all.

Camp

Consistency v. changing specialty summer camps

There’s no right or wrong here, but consider the role of consistency with your kids at this age. Would they do well with consistency or will mixing it up keep them more excited about their summer days?

The single-camp-for-the-whole-summer options can be awesome for younger kids as the routine could be nice (and, candidly, for the adults, who also benefit from the routine!). That said, these can be hard to get into, likely because many parents see the appeal.

Where to look for summer camps

According to working moms I spoke with, here are some places to look for camps:

  • Local universities;
  • YMCA/Local Recreation Departments (more affordable options);
  • Private schools (one working mom shared that while private school day camps can be more expensive, they have great coverage, which can be worth the extra money);
  • Zoo;
  • Museums; and
  • Places where your kids do extracurriculars already (e.g., gymnastics, ballet, arts centers) (they often have summer programming that’s more robust to fill the summer childcare gap).

A quick word before you dive in, consider starting a “Summer Camps” spreadsheet to corral and make sense of all the information. Potential column headings could be the camp name (hyperlink the website), dates of relevant camps, open enrollment date, cancellation policy, notes for your thoughts, and yes/no for if you’re going to try to send your kids there (keeping the “no’s” can be handy so you know which ones you’ve already looked at and ruled out). Some moms noted that they shared this spreadsheet with other moms to share the burden of creating and updating it. One mom said a Facebook mom group in her area even had one you could download and run with!

In addition, you know me, start plotting out your plans in your calendar, using “TENTATIVE” to start the titles where you plan to send kids but haven’t enrolled yet. Some people prefer a larger paper calendar for this function – go for it!

Camp Safety

A client-turned-friend sent me this article, which contains questions you might want to think through and ask about regarding camps in general – and, specifically, health and safety (e.g., staff-to-camper ratios, screening procedures for hiring staff, background checks). You can look through it and pick any questions you might want to explore further and perhaps make a column in your spreadsheet to make notes about that topic(s).

Camp for Multiple Kids

If you have multiple kids who need summer coverage and opt for camps, some working parents encouraged putting them all in the same camp to simplify your life and have that dreamy one-drop-off-one-pick-up magic I fantasize about. One day.

Alternating Weeks of Coverage

Whether it’s to help keep costs down and/or leave room for unstructured fun for kids, some families alternate weeks of activities and no activities. For example, one working mom who works exclusively at home shared she’d signed her kindergartner up for a YMCA summer camp every other week. The other weeks, her daughter will be home. This mom said she envisioned that setup would allow some time at home while also preventing her child from getting too bored.

Summer Childcare Strategy #3: Talk to parents of older kids

No one will know what working moms do in the summer in your area better than experienced parents in your area. They’ll know which camps are good, when to start looking to enroll, where to find a great summer nanny, etc.

I’d recommend thinking of any and all parent friends you have (e.g., friends, neighbors, colleagues) and asking them for their input. You’ll learn a wealth of information about your area.

πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: Consider calendaring time to “Reach out to parents with older kids re summer camps” in, e.g., December, and repeat it annually. This will help you start intel gathering without a time crunch. Even once you’ve run a summer with kids once or twice, those kids keep getting older and their summer needs will change. Talking to parents with older kids can really help you understand those changes ahead of time with breathing space to shift strategies.

Summer Childcare Strategy #4: Timing of Camps & Vacation

No matter what you’re doing, figure out the general timing of your summer.

To do this, (πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP) make sure your calendar contains the last day of school and the first day of the next school year for each kid.

Next, consider when you might want to have a summer trip or staycation. I’m relatively new at this whole summer-planning-without-childcare thing, but I’ve found and heard from more experienced parents that the first week of summer and the last two-ish weeks before school starts (or even all August weeks) tend to have less/no camp options. So, if you’re relying on camps, as you research, keep an eye out for similar empty pockets of coverage.

In addition, even if you have a nanny, high school and college kids may need to head back to start school – or want time off before it – earlier than you’d ideally want.

Those weeks make for good vacation weeks as you don’t have childcare coverage anyway.

As you plan, another thing I’ve learned is how much paperwork, figuring out new routines, etc. there is before the start of the new school year. I, therefore, am planning to be in town for the week before school starts to avoid managing the bulk of that paperwork/email/new-schedule-figure-out-ing from a vacation. This is tricky as I also won’t have childcare coverage that week, but I’d rather that than be trying to relax on vacation and getting pulled away by school paperwork or tracking down a doctor’s form that I need. (During that time, I’ll probably email out to our regular sitters to see if I can get coverage, lean on grandparents, and/or plan childcare swap playdates with friends.)

Bonus tip: Annual Wellness Checks & School Forms

Speaking of medical forms, if you have an August/September birthday kid, consider calling in to get their annual wellness check scheduled for the beginning of August.

πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: Figure out when the pediatrician’s office typically opens August appointments (or if your school year starts in August, maybe late July) for booking and schedule a time then to call in – and repeat it annually. This will give you more breathing space around getting those forms filled out before the school year.

Summer Childcare Strategy #5: Check out local online mom groups for intel

Location-specific mom Facebook groups and other online groups and websites can be wonderful resources for summer planning. I’m rarely on Facebook, but I’ve found good intel in mom groups on Facebook in my area. As with anything online, approach them with a grain of salt (e.g., I feel like often the most negative people write in the most), but intel is intel.

Side note: I wish I could say that broader parent groups exist that’re useful, but in my experience, these really are mom groups.

πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: If you have a good resource like this, add it to your December reminder (or whenever you booked it) to start researching, looking for activities for kids of [your child’s new age that year], etc.

What do working moms do during summer - mom with her young daughter

Summer Childcare Strategy #6: Proactively reach out to camps you’re interested in

If you can’t find the info you’re looking for on a camp website (e.g., the options/catalog, enrollment date, how to enroll), reach out to the camp. Some of these camps are run by small teams and their websites don’t always get updated. Sometimes, they’re just sending the information to their email list of past participants. So, get proactive and reach out. Don’t be shy.

Summer Childcare Strategy #7: Buddy up with a friend

Many working moms talked about signing kids up with friends – whether to help kids feel more comfortable at a new camp and/or to carpool.

This does require more coordination. Some working moms brought up creating a shared spreadsheet of camp options (see Strategy #2) and/or setting up a time to discuss because email/texts about these decisions can get a bit unwieldy.

Summer Childcare Strategy #8: Have backup plans (and know the relevant cancellation policies)

Enrollment for some camps – at least in certain areas – is bonkers. Camps can sell out in minutes. So, while it’s great to know what your ideal plan is, have backup plans.

What’s critical to note is that you might sign up for your “backup” camp before your ideal camp because of the order of enrollment dates – i.e., if Camp BackUp opens enrollment before Camp Ideal, you’ll want to sign up for Camp Backp first. All of this hinges on Camp Backup’s cancellation policies. So, get familiar with each camp’s cancellation policies before you act.

Summer Childcare Strategy #9: Enrollment Itself (Deep Breaths)

If you decided on a camp(s) and know which one(s) you’ll go with, (πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP) calendar the date and time of enrollment opening (many of these camps fill up in a matter of minutes) – and calendar more time than you’d think.

This year, knowing enrollment would be tough, I blocked my availability to sign my oldest up for the camp I wanted. I blocked about 20 minutes to do this, squeezing it in in between the 8am enrollment open time and when I needed to leave to take my oldest to school. And then… enrollment didn’t actually open for those 20 minutes. I refreshed and refreshed… nothing. I finally had to leave – only to get a response to an email I’d sent out earlier asking about the delayed open about three minutes into the drive. I pulled over into a sidestreet and desperately tried to book her a spot on my phone – and most camps I wanted were already waitlisted. It was… as fun as you’d expect (and she was late to school).

Based on this and similar stories I’ve heard since from other moms, next year, I plan to book a full hour of time for enrollment and to arrange for my partner or parents to handle kid dropoff if it falls within that hour (but also, camps, why are you opening enrollment on a school day during prime drop off time?).

Another mother who wrote in noted that some of the camps around her actually opened enrollment a few hours early (which feels so unfair). So, it also might be worth checking out a high-in-demand camp’s enrollment a few hours early just to make sure it’s not already open. (Isn’t it crazy that we’re even talking about this is in this level of detail?? Sometimes, it blows my mind that this childcare stuff is so hard, but I digress…)

Other enrollment tips

In addition, another mom encouraged making sure your login info, if you need it to enroll, works a few days before enrollment so that you have time to sort out any issues before the day of. Similarly, I also recommend bopping around the relevant website and understanding how you’ll enroll. Some of these websites are pretty convoluted and, I’m sorry to say it, bad, so it can be less than obvious. Better to learn the ropes before the stressful day of signups. (πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: Once you know enrollment dates, calendar time to do both of these things in the days before.)

Summer Childcare Strategy #10: Schedule time to prep the details

Regardless of what option you go for, there’s prep work. Nannies require guidance and supplies (e.g., sunscreen, pool bags – even if the nanny eventually packs them up). Camps require forms, extra clothes (or whole bags of clothes, toiletries, etc. for sleepaway camps), lunches, sunscreen, and more.

So, let’s protect time to do the prep work so you can avoid a last-minute scramble (or delegate out the work to others, like your partner or an older child).

Compile the Info

As you pick what you’re doing, start compiling information, instructions, and/or thinking about the guidance you’ll need to provide. Start a “Summer 202X” email folder and desktop folder. Calendar what you can – from drop-off instructions to gear lists.

πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: Schedule Prep Time

Everything comes back to time, including making sure your family is ready for the summer and the prep work needed throughout the summer.

First, consider blocking time (e.g., two 1-hour blocks on separate days) about a month before the start of summer to draft instructions for a nanny, make sure all relevant camp forms are filled out, you understand drop off and pick up timing and steps, have blocked your work availability in light of schedule abnormalities, etc. You’ll likely have to schedule time to follow up on specific things from there, but these sessions will get the ball rolling.

This step is critical as it’ll help you avoid last-minute scrambles, surprises, confusion, and the stress of realizing you’re missing forms or don’t know how to do drop off on the first day.

Second, think through any day-to-day prep you’ll need to do during the summer – and calendar it both to protect time and to remind Future You to do it. For example, especially if you don’t normally pack lunches during the school year and have to for summer, calendar a reminder Sunday-Thursday night to pack lunches for the next day.

Summer Childcare Strategy #11: Save it for next year

Whatever you do, save your schedule – what you did, when you enrolled, etc. – for next year. Combine this with the next strategy.

What do working moms do during summer - desk with computer and many plants

Summer Childcare Strategy #12: Calendar time to evaluate how it all went

πŸ—“οΈ CALENDAR TIP: Calendar time (~45 minutes) after summer is over to evaluate how it all went – and repeat it annually. This will help you set Future You up for an easier, smoother, and even more fun summer the next year (and years to come!).

I picked a time about a week into the school year once I’ve seen how the summer played out and while it’s still fresh in my mind to “Evaluate how the summer went – see notes.” In the notes section, I wrote:

  • Evaluate:
    • Did all-day camps work? For H? For me? Any changes to make for next year?
    • Did speciality camps work? For H? For me? Any changes to make for next year?
    • Vacation timing and vacations themselves – Did the schedule work? Were they fun and relaxing (as possible given with kids)? Any changes to make for next year?
    • Enough time for school prep for me?
    • What would do differently re camps, driving, vacation, time off, playdate swaps, etc. next summer?
  • Schedule relevant reminders for next summer

While each summer can be different as kids age, we might as well try to keep the lessons that might make next summer (or the lead-up to summer) easier in a place where they’ll actually helps us next time around.

And remember, to avoid frantically panicking and wonder-screaming, “what do working moms do in the summer?” each and every year, schedule an hour of time in, e.g., December, to start thinking about this process for the following summer. Repeat it annually and copy-and-paste the link to this article in the calendar entry. It’s a crazy process regardless, but these tips will make it as easy as it can be for you.

Alright, that’s it! If you have any more practical strategies to help working moms during the summer on the kid front, share below!

And if you love practical tips like these…

Check out the Bright Method, my realistic time management system designed for professional working women. It took me from an overwhelmed attorney to “on top of it” patent litigator and now helps me manage running my business, being a mom to two girls and a lab, and partner to an ER physician with an ever-changing schedule. We use practical, calendar-driven strategies to help you lighten your mental load, reclaim control of your work hours, manage work with less stress and scambles, and take breaks – and actually enjoy them. Check it out here!

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll likely love these articles, too:

Career or Kids: When to stay, leave, or scale down your career for kids – at least for now

A SUPER Useful Long-Term Planning Tool (especially for those with kids!)

How to Get Your Partner’s Help at Home: Help Them See the Ocean

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