Kids running barefoot through grassy meadows and sandy beaches, with dirt on their faces and half-dead butterflies clasped between their tiny hands. Streaks of red Freezie dye colouring the corners of their mouths as they giggle and play with their pals until dusk. Schedules have been tossed and boredom banished because there’s plenty to do when you’re set free to play in nature’s playground without spatial boundaries or time constraints.
This is the summer that my generation remembers, and many working parents daydream of providing this same free-range-style summer for their own children. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for most working parents in Canada today.
According to Stats Canada, approximately 77 per cent of two-parent Canadian families (with children between the ages of six and 15) have both parents working outside of the home, putting parents in a summer slump as they dream of unstructured, sun-drenched days for their children, while they snooze through the summer days at their desks.
Instead, they are forced to dole out thousands of dollars for scheduled summer programs, so that they can continue to work and keep their jobs.
From 1976 to 2014, the number of Canadian families with a stay-at-home parent has declined by almost two-thirds, decreasing substantially from 1.5 million stay-at-home parents, to just 500,000. If you feel like you’re the only parent shuttling your little ones off to summer camp while you’re stuck behind your desk this summer, you’re definitely not alone.
Finding a balance between unstructured play and structured summer programming is tricky for parents who are restricted to their nine-to-fives while their children are out of school for the summer.
Not only does the break present financial challenges for office-bound moms and dads (summer camps can cost an average of $300 per week, per child), but it also creates a struggle between balancing work requirements and finding time for family fun.
For parents like myself, who work from home with a more flexible schedule, the struggle still exists.
While the hours that I work may vary, my children’s desire for 24-7 attention certainly does not. With my brood at bay, I still need childcare to get my work done, but the cost of summer programming often is more than the salary that’s coming in.
The important thing to remember is that summer break is temporary.
Before we know it, we’ll be back to our regular routines, and we’ll be happy that we toughed it out.
There are a plethora of programs that allow children to enjoy their summer days just as you did when you were a child. Let your kids participate in program selection, and they’ll look forward to learning new skills and trying new adventures.
Pack your time off with days spent unplugged and outdoors as a family.
Throw out your stuffy schedules and restrict screen time, if only for a week, and watch your children flourish as they fend for themselves – barefoot and fancy free.
Teach them how to build fires and make the perfect s’more, and tell them stories of the summer days that you enjoyed as a child. Make the most of your days together, and they’ll enjoy the time apart even more.
Bianca Bujan is a mom of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her at @bitsofbee.