What Do Working Parents Do During Summer Break? Dealing With Logistics, Parent Guilt and Nerves  

UPDATED: June 4, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 2, 2024
dad working on phone while holding young child

While everyone anxiously awaits long sunny days by the pool, vacations and outdoor adventures, one particular group is counting down with a bit more dread, with a serious side of nerves. Working parents, especially those who are remote or hybrid, have more to balance than before as their kids drift in and out of their home offices, requesting snacks and activities, outings and rides to summer camps. Leaving the question: What do working parents do during summer break and how do they handle the stress? 

Among parents surveyed by KinderCare Learning Companies, 60% indicate their current work situation is either remote or hybrid. This means a chunk of parents are juggling home and parenting responsibilities along with their workload in the summer. So why can’t they just put their kids in child care? Lots of reasons, from a lack of consistent affordable child care options, to inequity issues with expensive summer camps and access to specialized programs for neurodivergent or disabled children.

“Naturally, the summer months can cause stress to working families. Schools are not in session, leaving many families without structured supervision for their children,” says Tracee Perryman, Ph.D., therapist, author and CEO and co-founder of Center of Hope Family Services in Toledo, Ohio. “Families balance the summer learning loss with the need for children to rest, refuel and reset. For those parents working from home, finding a variety of stimulating activities for their children poses yet another challenge.”

Here’s what working parents can consider as they motion for their kids to wait just a minute while maintaining their composure and professionalism on their summer Zoom calls—while screaming inside.

Summer break can be stressful

Simply validating how ridiculous of an ask the situation is can help some parents. You are somehow supposed to work, exercise, cook healthy meals, take care of yourself and also create an enriching yet relaxing summer break for your kids… with what time and energy, not to mention money?

“Finding cost-effective child care solutions for the summer months—especially when you’re working from home on a regular basis—can be incredibly stressful,” says Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume, certified professional career coach and a Long Island-based mother to an 8-year-old special needs son. She works remotely. “If you try to work from home without sufficient child care, you constantly feel as though you’re neglecting either your work or your children. The ‘juggle struggle’ to be both a star employee and a star parent is very real and can create additional stress.”

The summer camp conundrum

Summer camp planning can start as early as the previous fall in some areas, with many more parents starting to consider it in January or February, a few months ahead of summer. Summer camps can be pricey, but worth it for some, and likely involve significant research to determine if they are a fit for a child, if working parents can obtain rides and other logistics. Perryman says summer camps have to offer the right conditions.

“Those conditions include providing varied activities for children with different learning styles, personalities and preferences. For example, if your child does not especially love the outdoors, sending them to a camp that spends half or more of the day outdoors would not be a good fit. If your child is interested in sports, then camps emphasizing team sports, cooperation and physical activity would be a fit,” she says. “If your child is artistic in nature, then look for camps that provide visual and performing arts. When activities align with your child’s interests, they are more likely to be flexible regarding the aspects they do not like: such as early mornings.”

Karlee Vincent, author and working mom of two in Petaluma, California, recommends parents talk to other parents before school ends to “form a summer time alliance.”  “Working parents don’t want to impose on each other’s time because it feels so incredibly limited and crunched already. Summer camps often have limited hours, so alliances can be incredibly helpful for alternating pickups/drop-offs,” she says. “We’ve also found for the days that camp ends earlier, it’s easier for us to rotate afternoon playdates with friends. This helps with saving some moola, allowing for the kids to have some summer fun and helps my husband and I feel less stressed.”

Think outside the traditional child care box

Remote working parents need child care. KinderCare Learning Companies’ 2024 Parent Confidence Index, a study in partnership with Harris Poll, shows that:  

  • 88% of parents believe access to consistent, high-quality child care would improve their mental health  
  • 78% of parents said confidence in their child care allows them to excel at work 
  • 71% of parents said they’re constantly thinking about child care gaps (a 7% increase from 2023)  
  • 65% of parents said if they knew they would always have quality child care, they would be able to be more present as a parent when with their children 

Given these numbers, parents might have to think outside the box in places where child care options are limited, expensive or otherwise inaccessible.

“One solution that’s worked for us is a parenting co-op with a few fellow parents in our community,” says Matt Little, director and owner of Festoon House in Australia. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. “We’re not super organized, but we make it work. We’ve got a group chat where we toss around dates and times, and we try to cover each other’s backs when we can. Some weeks it’s a scramble, but we figure it out. I might host the kids on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another parent will take them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than trying to go it alone.”

Involve kids and managing parent guilt

While summer should be fun, it shouldn’t only be fun for kids. They can and should still have some responsibilities. “Remember—quality is better than quantity. When you are unable to take time off or as much time off as you like, plan special activities for your children. Try to plan them out in advance, so that they have good things to look forward to,” Perryman says. “Use those special activities as incentives for maintaining household chores, carrying out developmentally appropriate activities independently and engaging in positive behavior.” She reminds remote working parents to still include your children in household responsibilities. “It saves you time, and you also get to spend quality time with your children.”

Photo credit Shutterstock/Drazen Zigic