Summer & the Single Working Parent

Employment Matters column,

“Summer’s here…
Well, I’m for that
Got my rubber sandals
Got my straw hat
Got my cold beer
Man, I’m glad that it’s here
It’s my favorite time of the year
And I’m glad that it’s here…Yeah!”

– James Taylor, Summer’s Here

The lazy days of summer are the favorite of millions, especially schoolchildren. For the single working parent, however, summer isn’t always the stress reliever it is for others. It can be a scary time for parents with young children who are caught between a limited budget and the necessity of working while the kids are out of school. Someone has to earn money, and someone has to watch the kids, and few single parents can do both at the same time.

Parents naturally want to ensure their children’s safety and well-being, but this is tough to do while away at a job. It’s a lot easier when help is available from trusted family and friends. But when that’s not an option, where can the single working parent turn?

There’s an old saying – “an idle mind is the devil’s playground”. The idea behind this idiom is that when people are bored and have plenty of time, there are more opportunities to get into some sort of trouble. This is especially true with kids. There’s another saying – “when the cat’s away, the mice will play” – and when Mom or Dad are away, kids can be tempted to experiment with ideas they know their parents wouldn’t approve.

Keeping young minds focused on something positive and interesting is vital to keeping them out of trouble. Doing that on the kind of tight budget common among single working parents is a real challenge. What to do?

One fix is to network with other single parents, ideally someone who has a different work schedule than your own. You trade off watching the kids while the other works. That’s not enough, by itself- you also need assurance you’re dealing with someone who is dependable and trustworthy. You could trust your gut, or you could ask for referrals from their co-workers or supervisor.

Another possibility – check out This is a good starting point for finding established local child care services – and possibly some useful resources to help pay for it.

While you’re thinking about the expense, think about tax breaks, too – in America, there’s a good chance you qualify for the child-care tax credit. This deal can net you up to $3,000 to help cover day-care costs for one child, and up to $6,000 for two or more children. You can find out more about it here.

Could you use a guide on how to interview a babysitter?

Children mature at different speeds. You’ve probably met a few kids who seem surprisingly wise and mature beyond their years, and some older kids you wouldn’t trust alone more than 5 minutes. If you’re one of the lucky parents who have Yoda children and you’re wondering if leaving them home alone is an option, a good rule of thumb is that no child should be home alone if they are under 12.

Give some thought to activities for the kids beyond the classic choices of videogames and movies. TV is like visual crack – once addicted, it’s hard to wean the kids off it and get them interested in something else.

Get them outside if you can. Gardening is a good bet if you have some yard space, especially if you let on that there are all sorts of creepy (but generally harmless to people) crawlies that are drawn to gardens. (This will repel some kids and attract others.) You can also point out the fun of growing watermelon, strawberries and other summer foods right at home. Living in an apartment? You can still do flowers on the porch and in the windows.

Another idea – astronomy. You don’t even need a telescope. With a few library books and their eyes, a kid can learn their way around the night sky, and if they really get into it, binoculars are a low-cost addition to the hobby.

And another – biking. This is a good habit to encourage early – bikes can become a tool for healthy living for the rest of a child’s life, as well as a source of great fun and a way to get around without driving up your gas expenses.

The problem of keeping children happy, engaged and safe during the summer months affects all single parents – hearing, deaf and hard of hearing. This is one area where we’re all in it together.

More Resources

National Child Care Information Center

The Afterschool Alliance

The Administration for Children & Families