Summer is the most difficult season to be a working parent. And if you throw a dollop of entrepreneur on top, these three months can feel more like a disaster than idyllic afternoons in the pool.
It’s the time of year when the tension between long-term professional goals of growth and the near-term personal time required to be present for important moments reaches a screeching pitch.
And every year, when the last bell rings on the last day of school, the crazy hits a new level.
Kids suddenly have places they need to be in the middle of the day. Camp schedules are anything but routine. So much food gets consumed. Everything is messier. Last-minute texts that say “Hey, Mom! Can I go over to my friend’s house?” can send me over the edge on a busy day.
I don’t want to miss the moments of summer. I want to be fun. Present. Available.
I’ve been a working parent for 13 summers and have learned a few things that have helped us all have a lot more fun and a lot less mess.
In the early days of growing a business, it demands all of you (at least it did for me). Sometimes participating in some of the fun is better than missing all of it.
I remember family vacations where I was working in a hotel room as often as I was sitting poolside. I wish I would have said in advance, “We would love to go on this trip, but the only way we can make it work is to be online through core work hours, would that be OK?” This way everyone’s expectations would have been aligned and likely some disappointment could have been avoided.
Ask: ‘What is most important to you?’
I just can’t do all of it in the summertime. When I have flexibility in my schedule, I’ve learned to ask my crew, “What is most important to you?” Instead of guessing what they want from my time, I ask them. This way I know the thing that is most meaningful to them gets done.
Here are a couple of examples of what it can sound like in our house:
◗ Would you prefer I drive you to camp this morning or be home early so we can go to the pool before dinner?
◗ I need your help more in summer. Would you rather take responsibility for unloading the dishwasher every morning or setting the table before dinner?
We become partners in the decisions and responsibilities—it’s not completely on me to manage and prioritize.
Schedule when YOU will do summer
As a parent, it can be difficult to remember that you are also a customer of the summer schedule. I’ve had summers where I got to the end and realized I carted kids to the pool but never really put my own suit on.
We don’t want to be just the taxi of the season. I want to participate in it too. Here’s how:
◗ Get your favorite things on the calendar first and say no to everything else that conflicts.
◗ Plan “nothing.” This helps us keep one weekend a month where we are able to be spontaneous and together as a family—to explore and experience new things. That way when I look at the calendar, it isn’t empty. It has our “nothing: weekend (or day) already on it.
◗ Pick three days out of the summer (once a month) in which you will leave early and just do your favorite summer things. Swim. Hike. Bike ride. Lemonade stand. Nap in a hammock.
Being a business owner, entrepreneur, spouse and parent is complex.
Not every summer will have as much fun in it as you want. And not every summer will have as much work in it as you may need. Sometimes you will have to disappoint your in-laws that you can’t stay the entire time. Sometimes you’ll need to leave work because your kids really, really need you.
Success in life is messy.
Solve the puzzle of your summer in collaboration with your family. It’s been my experience that we all have a lot more capacity to have fun and be present for one another.
And at the end of the summer, give yourself the gift of grace and know you made the best choices.•
Sauder is CEO of Element Three, an Indianapolis-based marketing consultancy, and the host of the podcast “Scared Confident.” She is also owner of Share Your Genius.