Photo: Ben White via Unsplash

With the recent CDC guidelines now allowing for fully-vaccinated individuals in the U.S. to pretty much resume life per usual after a year-long pandemic that upended nearly every aspect of life as we once knew it, it’s no surprise you might be excited. You might also be worried about how you’ll manage this summer with your family, including summer camps, child care, and celebrations.

Here’s my best advice for keeping calm front and center for you and your entire crew:

1. Manage the Summer Break
Do you remember your childhood summer vacations? I remember them vividly—my brother and I running free, creating forts at the neighbor’s house. My father was a teacher, making summers especially luxurious. We hardly ever went on a fancy trip, but just the fact that my dad was present—working on projects around the house or making extra money doing construction projects for family friends—made those special days seem to go on forever. Our most exciting ritual came about mid-July when we’d go on a series of car camping trips in the California redwoods. Canned stew and spaghetti with meat sauce were almost always on the menu, along with cold cereal in the morning and PB and Js for lunch.

Even if you didn’t grow up with a teacher-parent, you probably did grow up feeling that sense of summer freedom—that something was different—even lazy and boring—compared to normal. That’s the kind of feeling we still want to give our kids on their breaks. Most kids these days have a more structured summer than we did, with scheduled camps, activities, and playdates—especially if both of their parents are working. We can still maintain that free and easy kind of feeling for our kids during summer breaks, though—a feeling they desperately need incrementally throughout their lives—by choosing scheduled activities that foster creativity and fun over academic advancement.

Whenever possible pick camps that get your kids outside and moving, that give them the opportunity to explore and play instead of sit and learn. That’s even more important this year when our kids have had significantly fewer opportunities for access to outdoor play spaces. Summers are meant to be free, and freedom means a lot this particular summer. Remember, a little boredom breeds creative kids. Creative kids who know how to problem solve and to play develop into more resilient adults.

2. Work with Other Parents to Make a Summer Plan
Even though camps can be great ways to (can we just go ahead and say it?) occupy our children during the summer months, they can also be a huge financial drain and can create their own brand of scheduling nightmares for working parents, especially when they have later start times and earlier end times than the regular school year schedule. This is where your friendships with other parents come into play.

I’m not sure what I would do without the other moms in my posse—the women who step in for me as I try to juggle it all. In fact, I do know what I’d do without them because, like you, I weathered through the past 14 months almost completely removed from them. In years past, though, I’ve had friends pick my kids up from camps, host playdates—even take my kids for me to lunch with their own little ones. I know I have a unique place in the circle. I may not bake all the cookies and host all the midweek get-togethers, but I sure show up for my friends when they need advice over coffee or if they’re seriously worried about their kid’s health. That’s what a village is—not everyone doing exactly the same thing, but everyone doing the thing they can do (or have the time to do) better than anyone else.

3. How to Handle Birthday Parties & Other Celebrations 
This past year, one silver lining in my family was the lack of social obligations. Pandemic or no pandemic, It can be hard to figure out what events are actually worth attending, what will make a difference in the long run as you think about your child’s future friendships or life experiences. The pressure to say yes to each invitation can be weighty. When planning your own events, it’s equally easy to get caught up in the pressure to make them Pinterest-worthy at all costs.

My actual, real-life Pinterest board for my daughter’s first birthday party was out of control. I even hand-made little stamped tags with aqua twine and prepared a full Italian smorgasbord full of food. The party was beautiful, but I remember swearing under my breath and feeling frantic the whole weekend before the event as I tried to make it all picture-perfect. For what purpose? When I analyzed my heart, I realized my intention was to make sure I appeared even more invested and present for my children than the other moms who didn’t work did, even though it negatively affected my mental health and put me out financially.

As moms, we have to have to be real about our motives and our obligations. We have too much on our plates to let outside pressures or pictures of what motherhood should look like dictate our actions when it comes to childhood celebrations and summer activities. Hopefully, if this past year taught us anything, it drilled in that simpler is better and that our over-scheduled lives generally make us less happy, not more.

As you and your family launch into this summer, remind yourself about what matters most in your life and what you want out of it. Try your very best to stay laser-focused on your family, your decisions, what makes you feel safe and comfortable, and let everyone else’s opinions fall to the wayside. You’re the decision-maker and the queen of your crew.

This is a modified excerpt from The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning at Parenting Without Losing Yourself  (American Academy of Pediatrics, May 2021).