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  • Sheila Reynolds

Summer guilt and the working mom

School has ended, homework has come to a halt and summer has at last arrived.

And while the thought of two less-hectic months of sunshine is pure bliss, for the working mom, it often packs another set of baggage with it: Guilt.

Yup, I've got it. Though my kids are now teens and mostly independent, I still feel badly that I don't have unlimited time to spend with them during the summer. As if they really want to spend countless hours with their old mom these days…

But still.

The rest of the year, I take great pride in the fact I have a career. I like my kids to see me pursuing something I'm passionate about, that challenges me and sometimes places me outside my comfort zone. I'm also happy they can learn that fulfillment and pride can come from various pursuits, and that they see what it means to have a strong work ethic – though I may not always demonstrate the best work/life balance.

Between jobs recently, I was also ecstatic to be a stay-at-home mom – for the first time since they were infants – and show them the non-stop nature of that job and all of its frustrations and rewards.

But come summertime, the angst inevitably rolls in like a tsunami.

Of course there are usually a couple of weeks of family holiday time to be had. But the other six or so weeks are filled with self-condemnation over the fact I'm not taking advantage of all their time off and "making memories." You know, like those awesome moms on TV.

When they were young, many weeks would be filled with summer sports, drama and art camps. The guilt was still there, but at least I knew they were busy and doing exciting things and meeting new friends.

Those days are gone, however, and somehow, even though my taller-than-me babies theoretically need me around less, the working mom guilt weighs heavier than ever.

There's the occasional organized activity, but often, they're in charge of finding something to fill their summer months. Some days they're busy, but others – when friends are away on family vacations or the weather just isn't cooperating – seem boring.

And that's when I worry. I should be there, right? Ready to take them on adventures, available to explore and entertain and be a good parent?

But that, it seems, is not only unrealistic, but ill-conceived.

After all, those lazy, hazy days of summer are sometimes exactly what they want and need. My daughter, for example, is happy to actually be able to have uninterrupted time to read a book simply for pleasure, and not because she has to write an essay on it. And my son is content to wander around with friends, sometimes aimlessly, but without the pressure of a tight schedule or a looming school project.

They're happy. Is there anything more important?

My kids don't need – or necessarily want – me entertaining them every second of the summer. In fact, it's the non-schedule of summer that makes it great.

So I'm trying to take a breath, accept that and keep pursuing my career. And perhaps if I pay attention, maybe my kids can teach me a little something about work/life balance.

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