It really hit me one morning a few summers ago. I had stopped at Target to pick something up before work, and even at that early hour, I saw several moms headed into the store with their young children. Both moms and kids were dressed in bright shorts sets and sandals, and they looked as if they had a full day of summer adventures ahead of them.
This ordinary scene cost me a pang of longing and regret, remembering my own simple summer days with my kids when they were younger and I was a stay-at-home mom. Those days could be long and exhausting, but they were also fun and relaxed. We did whatever we wanted each day—the library, playdates, the pool—our choices dictated only by the children’s mood and the weather. We made popsicles and ice cream, went to the park, and just lay on the couch reading books or watching movies. But those days are gone for our family and as a single mom, I now have no choice but to work outside the home.
I get up groggily in the early morning, no matter how late we stayed up watching a family movie and eating ice cream. The kids are all still sleeping and probably will be for hours. I empty the dishwasher, hoping that will mean everyone will put their dishes inside it and not leave them all around the house. I make sure the summer chore chart is still pinned to the fridge and text my teens about any scheduling items for the day.
I am grateful I have teenagers who can watch their younger brother for the summer, eliminating the stress and expense of childcare. I am grateful I have a job that enables me to support my children and that I have some flexibility in my hours. During the school year, I rarely question our life, as my kids go off to school and I go to work, all of us learning, growing, and accomplishing goals in our little worlds.
But the summer is hard, and I have learned to just accept that. To compensate for being away all day I try to fill our evenings with quality time, going to the pool or meeting up with friends. We go on evening walks around the little lake in our neighborhood, and we stay up far too late watching movies. I comfort myself with the fact that my kids have each other and that when I was a kid I didn’t want to spend every waking moment with my parents. My children have to come up with their own fun, and I have come home to everything from fort-building to face painting. Yes, they may also have too much screentime and sometimes eat only Goldfish crackers for lunch, but I am hoping it will all balance out in the end.
I will always wish I could be home with my kids in the summer, but I am also determined to make the best of it. I found that being a working mom has made me more intentional about giving my attention to my children in the time I do have with them, planning activities in advance, and making sure I am fully engaged in what we are doing.
I think back to the moms walking into Target and I know they have challenges too. While I am wishing for more time for activities with my kids, they may be desperate for a break. They may be too tired to constantly plan special outings, and they may also feel guilty about the summer their kids are having. In the end, summer is fleeting for all of us and it’s never picture-perfect. We all just take the moments we have for making memories and we trust that the rest will be okay.