Summer camps abound, but somehow very few of them accommodate children with working parents.

The Summer Childcare Quandary

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Categories Childcare, How Do The Moms Do It, Older Children, School-Age

Like most people with full time jobs, my work hours remain the same during the summer when school is out. Like the other 12 million single parents in the US, finding childcare for my children falls solely to me. Technically, the girls’ father has summer visitation privileges, but I need to have a plan in case he doesn’t show up. I also have to choose between missing registration deadlines or forfeiting deposit payments if he does decide to spend time with the children.

Given the enormous variety of summer camps available here in suburban Texas, you might assume that the only challenge for summer childcare for my elementary school children is our custody situation. You’d be very, very wrong.

Most day camps sold as “full day” camps run from 9 am to 3:30 or 4 pm. After-school childcare programs suspend for the summer, so those of us who work fairly typical hours (8 am to 5 pm in the US, plus commute time) are out of luck. Some companies, including mine, can accommodates shorter hours in the office to allow us to work from home to make up the balance. However, that’s not an ideal solution, either. When I’m home with my children, I want to be actively with them, not simply physically present but mentally at work. My daughters aren’t huge outdoors kids, so shooing them out into the Texas heat to play only buys me a few hours per week.

Ever year, starting in March, all the working moms I know begin our summer care hand wringing. It never gets better, though. Given that stay-at-home motherhood is no longer the only norm in our society, I really don’t understand why we haven’t come up with better solutions. Year round school would work. Full day summer camps would be great if their hours mirrored daycare programs for infants and toddlers. After camp care, similar to after school care, including transportation where necessary, would be enormously helpful.

I must acknowledge that most of these options don’t account for how out of reach summer camp costs are for many single parents, often around $150-200 per child per week, more for extended care. I know. This is quite a bit less than infant care, but it’s still a major stressor for families. I know of kids my daughters’ age, 10 years old, who have been staying home along during the summer for years. While that may have worked in past generations, when free range parenting was just called “life”, it not a sustainable way to keep kids out of trouble in 2016.

Childcare for elementary schoolers when school lets out for the summer can be a nightmare for the working parent.

I’m very thankful that we have a full day gymnastics camp only 15 miles out of our way that always makes room for my girls. My boss is open to my leaving an hour early every day to pick the kids up before they close. Neither of my daughters does gymnastics during the school year, but they enjoy the program for the summer. In all honesty, they’d rather attend others, but I can’t meet registration deadlines because of visitation challenges. In a pinch, teacher friends will watch my girls, but I can’t expect that for the 10 weeks school is out.

Any great ideas for fixing our summer childcare culture?

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

6 thoughts on “The Summer Childcare Quandary”

  1. I’m really glad you posted this! I’m a bit removed from having this issue yet but I’ve been thinking about what to do with my kid when he starts going to school and no longer has a nanny or day care. It is sad that there are not enough options for this, because us working parents can’t just drop everything to be home with our kids all summer. I mean wouldn’t it be nice? ha
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  2. Yes – I’m always confused by this. My girls are now 10, and for the first few years of elementary school we just did the YMCA program which has hours of 7-6 daily and cost around $180 per week. You can register as late as the week before.

    Now that the girls are older, I’ve been trying to work in some other interests, but it is hard since all their hours are 9-3, and often these camps are much more expensive at $300 per week or more for STEM, cooking, etc. I wonder how non-working parents afford them. Also in most of these camps there’s a Friday performance, or finale, where you’re expected to attend and take your kid home early.

    Last week I took off an hour each day and then a half day on Friday for the presentations. This week, their camps were 9-1. I paid the full day on Monday, but they hated it. So I did a half day Tuesday, my parents took them Wednesday, and husband is taking the next two days.

    We’re doing the YMCA the rest of the summer though, so I’m looking forward to regular schedules for the remaining 9 weeks.

    Now can we bring up the childcare tax credit disappearing at age 13? While we probably won’t need after school care at that point, they definitely will still be doing summer camps.

    1. Michele, I hadn’t realized that the US tax credit isn’t available after 13. I have a pre-tax flex account through my employer that has been adequate to cover my childcare costs the last couple of years, so I the credit hadn’t been on my radar, but that too is only valid through age 13. Yikes. And my girls’ birthday is in May, so I’ll lose out on the entirety of that year’s summer camp.

  3. I\’m surprised that summer camps have such short hours compared to the normal work days! I suppose that many of the camp counselors are probably young adults who only work part-time, but I still feel like they should have some sort of option for taking care of the kids for a longer time. I agree that camps offering after-camp care and transportation would be at least part of a solution; even offering to have an adult or two watch the kids run around would be okay in my book. I do hope the child care systems do become more friendly to single working mothers in the future.

  4. My sister is going to start working again in about a month from now. She will need to find a good childcare center for her young son to go to while she and her husband are at work. I appreciate your advice on finding a place that will help him develop physically and mentally.

  5. Sounds like a plan. Note though before someone or a group of people offers this, they have to conduct proper feasibility studies. Meaning, it has to setup as a business, unless there is a huge nonprofit organization to back it up. Otherwise, it would be difficult to sustain if not income-generating. Note that this could be a summer thing only as well. Great idea nonetheless, Sadia. I hope, someone picks this up. 😉
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