Learn from these seasoned pros on how to juggle fun, work, and your bank account this summer
School’s almost out, and Solo Moms around the country are well into panic mode because although summer generally is a time for fun and kicking back, for many of us it also means lining up child care—but how? Reliable child care is expensive and can be hard to find (let alone keep). Plus, we don’t want just anyone caring for our kids.
A few summer child-care ideas I was able to wrangle out of other solo mothers (because sharing reliable-sitter information doesn’t always happen naturally) really ran the gamut:
I sign up the kids for summer camps, and we take vacations with relatives who can shoulder the burden of watching them. And sometimes I plan playdates with other parents who have flexible schedules. —Erin
Last year one of my son’s preschool teachers watched him over the summer; this year his school offers a summer camp/day-care option. —Sarah
My son refuses to attend summer camp and just wants to spend time with me; I realized that I may not be productive during the summer, but he’s not going to want to hang out with me forever, so we make it work. —Rachel
I panic. Then I schedule some time off, we do day camp, and we share child care with friends. —Anne
No matter what your schedule looks like this summer, here are some tips for finding a child-care scenario that works for you.
Sometimes it’s easier to find part-time care, and sometimes it’s harder! There are several suggestions, ranging from my least favorite options, such as swapping with a friend or cutting back on work hours, to my favorite options, which call for creative child care and flexible work schedules.
Alexis Guethler revealed her secret to working out child care in the summer: “I have found a babysitter several times and shared her with a friend. We were able to guarantee her 30 hours a week between the two of us,” she said. “I used her two days, as I was only working part time, and my friend used her two days. For the fifth day, we’d plan an adventure with both moms, the sitter, and all the kids.”
For those who work from home full or part time, there are several ways to work around having the kids with you. Sometimes–Solo Mom of four and military blogger Lizann Lightfoot uses her local YMCA. “I write while they are at child care,” she says. “I get two hours free per day with my membership, then we go to the pool.” Lightfoot finds this option to be the most affordable for her.
Kristen Smith has figured out a way to balance being at home with her eight-year-old and getting her work done, though she admits when he was younger, her summer office was Chick-fil-A. “This summer he’ll participate in a program at the library, where I can work as well. I also signed him up for one week of camp per summer month,” she said.
Scheduling full-time care can be a full-time job
When Solo Mom Rachel was busy raising her now preteen son, she had lots of irons in the fire regarding child care. Her takeaway? Plan early and have backup. She explains how she went about doing that: “I started scheduling in March when the first brochures and online posts started to emerge,” the Solo Mom said.
Her favorite ideas are church programs such as Vacation Bible School (VBS), local parks and recreation programs, and the local university. Cost played a role in what her son could participate in, and she always started with the free or low-cost programs first. “VBS was free, parks and recreation tended to be more affordable or have some reduced-rate opportunities. The university options were either free or the most expensive,” she remembers.
“I tried to block a full week at a time,” she said. Sometimes this meant one camp three days a week and another for the other two days. She would arrange child care around her work schedule as much as possible and then try to fit in college classes. “On very few occasions, my son came to work with me,” she recalled. “I’d also bring him with me to the library and made sure he knew I was working hard so that we could have a good life.”
Because Rachel was working and attending school full time in addition to being a Solo Mom, there were times she really needed her village to back her up. She moved closer to family to have the support network, and summer was the one time it was really needed. One of her recommendations was to plan as much as possible in advance and to have several backup plans. “I created a calendar for [my son’s] activities, including who was picking him up or dropping him off, and I provided each person a copy,” she said. “I also sent them reminders!”
Using websites to find quality child care
Websites such as Care.com and Sittercity are two examples of places where Solo Moms can look for child care that caters to various situations. Sittercity membership includes babysitters, full- and part-time nannies, those who provide last-minute care, pet sitters, and housekeepers. Through membership on both sites, you can request background checks and view references. Payments can be done easily through the sites for clear record keeping.
Both Guethler and sometimes–Solo Mom Anna Kims say it is easier to find care in the summer because college students are home and ready to work. Sometimes you can find a sitter through word of mouth, and other times it’s worth it to use Care.com or Sittercity for a reliable and recommended sitter. I’ve noticed that in neighborhood and networking groups on Facebook, several people post about returning college kids who are looking to babysit throughout the summer.
Military Solo Moms have been using both sites for years, as they each offer discounts for military families, with mixed opinions. Some moms had a hard time getting prospective sitters to be honest, while other moms found fantastic sitters.
The best part about this Solo Mom adventure? The village that supports you. Work with and support one another, and those summer weeks will fly by. Share what works for you to inspire and help other ESME Sisters navigate this lifestyle.
Juggling work and family while having fun is the ultimate challenge; check out ESME Lifestyle for ideas and inspiration!
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military-family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY magazine and a regular contributor to several online publications, including the Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, and ESME. She also has been published in Ms. magazine and the Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com and on Twitter and Instagram.