When I first sent my daughter to a summer day camp, I felt like a failure. Somehow, in my mind, I felt I was abandoning her. Never mind that this was an amazingly fun camp for her age group at the local children’s museum – somehow, in my head, I was abandoning her. Summer was the first time I couldn’t arrange after-school care, and it was a big stretch mentally for me.
However absurd my belief was, many parents feel the same. Somehow, we can feel like our children would be best served if we were not working and we are the sole care providers for our children.
Believe it or not, March is the time many summer programs start offering registration, many of which fill up quickly. Take a breath, and review these four ideas to help ease any guilty feelings, while planning for a great summer for your kids.
Here are four ideas to help relieve your guilt, and realize you are doing the best for your kids (and yourself).
Look online about the program you are seeking to enroll your child. If it’s a chain, see what you can find out about the specific location you have in mind. Use online search tools to find out all you can about the facility. If possible, talk to other parents enrolled. Tour the facility with your child. If at all possible, have at least one backup location, in case this one does not work out. Having this will reduce anxiety in the event you have to change, because you already have a plan B.
When you are at the facility, notice all the kids having fun. Take note of how the staff are treating the kids. Imagine your kid being treated well and having fun too. Knowing that you have done thorough research should relieve some stress – you are seeking to put your child in the best possible situation.
There’s a balance to this step – once or twice a day, for the first few days, is good. More than this and you aren’t helping your child or yourself out much. Remember, you do want your kiddo to build resiliency when you aren’t around. They need that life skill. It would be ideal if there are many environments, they can thrive in.
When you check-in, know that kids sometimes give one-word answers or not much at all – that’s normal. Make sure to listen to the childcare adults and what they say too. You may also want to ask a good time to check-in. During nap would be particularly bad, for example. Some facilities do offer cameras and live views – if that’s important to you, make sure it’s on your must have list.
Take the time to really look at your finances. If you are in a relationship, can you actually live off of one income? Can you honestly give-up things to make that happen? If so, are you also able to care for 1-2 more children? Perhaps caring for others will make it fiscally responsible. Do be honest about that workload though, you are tripling your responsibility daily. Also, look at the flip side of this – you may have to do this to be able to work and provide for your family. If in either case, use the facts about income to help guide your decisions. Also let yourself off the hook if this is something you have to do. You are teaching your child about responsibility here in your actions, whatever they are.
Given a chance to have down-time, make great use of it. This makes you a better parent. If you can find something to get rid of anxious energy and get you in a calm, know it’s the perfect activity. It’s perfectly normal to want some me time and you are still being a great parent.
Now, when you are with your kid next, plan something special with them to connect. This can be a simple routine like reading favorite books, playing a game, or dancing. It doesn’t need to be expensive or food-based. This is a reward for you too!
After picking up my daughter from this day camp, and hearing how much fun she had, I knew I made the right choice. She made new friends and was excited about the next day. She had a craft she was really proud of, and was tired from a fun day.
She also now wanted to go to zoo camp, because one of her camp friends told her how fun it was. She also had two new friends she wanted to have play dates with. We listened to a few of her favorite songs on our way home, and she asked me about some of my favorite camps as a kid.
There’s nothing quite like a happy kid to soothe a parent’s nerves.
You’ve got this!
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Chris has worked in tech for 30 years, and healthcare tech for 8 of those. He's on the advisory board of Harvard-Based Think:Kids, and runs Rad Dad Rules. He is the proud Dad of two awesome kids, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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