Challenges of a Single Parent During Summertime
For some children, the end of the school year will mean a move to a new classroom. For others, it may mean choosing a camp or a recreational program followed by a new class or school in the fall. Summer might also mean vacation, hot days, iced tea, family, friends and a swimming pool.
But for parents, summertime means more than just childcare and scheduling, it means balancing needs with wants. In the case of single parents, this might seem like an onerous task, but they are facing the same challenges that every other parent does with the onset of summer: What do we do now?
"The first rule of thumb I always tell single parents is that they should start making summer plans right after they put their Christmas decorations away," says Leah Klungness, psychologist and co-author of The Complete Single Mother (Adams Media Corporation, 2000). "February is a good time to look for the notices for things and to start planning as early as possible."
Opportunities and Challenges
Summer can mean a change in the regular childcare program. For school-age children, it may mean more outdoor play and exploration as well as extra water play from bubble making to swimming. There will be new faces at the local daycare as familiar staff take vacations and substitutes join the program for the summer. Parents should make notes of changes with any programs their children are involved in so they can be prepared for any adjustments their children may need to make.
"Thoroughly investigate local community resources," says Klungness. "Community agencies – don't think that you are calling up and bothering them. Also, I recommend that parents should network with other moms at daycare or school and see what their plans might be and what suggestions they might have."
"During the summer, I got off work at 5 p.m. every day," says Mary Lane Cryns of Mountain View, Calif., and mother of three. "Right after work, I'd pick my daughter Megan up from either her school or summer day camp program, we'd dash home and grab our swimsuits. Then we'd drive to either Lake Success or the Tule River and swim for at least an hour."
"Remember that your child's age is your only guide to summer plans," says Klungness. "Some 12-year-olds might be ready for sleep away camp, some are not. Some 8-year-olds are ready for a full day away camp and some are not. You have to know [the] maturity and interest of your children."
Lazy days spent swimming and bonding with family can create some wonderful memories for the future. It's a time not only to just enjoy the beautiful weather, but also to relax and enjoy each other. "Just because summer is an outdoor time, your 'bookwormish' son may be more interested in books and music than a four-week soccer camp," says Klungness. "Check out the local library. They may have summer programs that your child might enjoy."
Single parents who feel like they are the only ones in worrisome circumstances should look for other parents living close by and see if pooling resources is an option. Not only should they try to reach out to other single parents, but also any other parents they know, including stay-at-home moms and dads. They might want to barter for swapping time so that everyone's kids can benefit. "Every parent, no matter their circumstances, has a 'what are we going to do this summer with the kid?' [discussion]," says Klungness. "These same kind of discussions go on with most parents for their kids for the summer."
"I always dreaded summers because that meant no school and trying to figure out what to do with the kids while I worked," says Cryns. "In fact, I still have that dilemma with Megan because she's only 10 years old and I can't just leave her alone all summer. I'm looking into the local rec center, because it's cheaper than the Y and other summer day camp programs."
When dealing with dual custody, summertime requires that parents employ good organization and planning ahead. There is this idea of relaxing in the hammock with a lemonade, but it can be tough if no one has planned. If you are the custodial parent, you need to plan with the non-custodial parent to know where both are. Make sure that there is no chance to mess up or make other plans when one or the other is responsible with the kids. Calendars with days demarcated are a good way to help both parents plan ahead.
"You may be able to use distant relatives, who may live greater than a day's drive. Maybe if you live in the city, a teenage cousin can come visit to do some stuff in the city while your kids go to see suburban life and country living," says Klungness. "I really do think that most communities in the summer [provide a plethora of activities, and] it's a matter of ferreting it out for free to low-cost activities that can be taken advantage of. The problem is to get an adult to go with – that's why the bartering is a great idea."
There are, of course, the old tried-and-true activities. For example, a visit to a thrift shop with a budget of $20 can produce a huge cardboard box of dress up clothes. Kids love that. Remember the days of camping in the backyard? What about the computer paper that everyone throws away at the office? Recycle it for art projects at home. This is the time of year to pick up a big cardboard box that someone is throwing out that you can bring home for a fort or a castle.
Use your imagination and use the time to turn trash into treasure and create an afternoon of adventure. And for those parents whose busy schedules are so rigorous that time off can be limited to a weekend afternoon, don't overachieve.
"Another thing I love to do with Megan is go hiking up in the hills," says Cryns. "That's another 'highlight' in our lives or hanging out at the coffee shop. Everyone knows Megan. When she was younger, she'd go to my guitar classes with me as well. She knew every single song we sang by heart."
"Your kids need the simple things," says Klungness. "If you are working a lot and your time has been stretched, your inclination will be to do something spectacular. What your kids probably need is downtime with you. You don't want to take the day to go four hours to a theme park – they would probably be much happier with dinosaur-shaped pancakes and something simple with lots of contact time, snuggle time, talking time, depending on the age of the child. Go for something where you have the maximum interaction time and avoid the stress and the rush."
Summertime is a time for making memories, whether it's sitting down to make a batch of cookies or just sitting and going through a pile of storybooks together. These are the things your kids will remember and this is what they want: time with you when you aren't frazzled and harried.
"For some reason, my happiest memories of my kids and I spending time together during the summer revolves around swimming, going to the beach and stuff like that," says Cryns.