How to Balance Work and Kids This Summer Without Going Crazy

Here are the best secrets for a healthy, happy, productive break from a dad and a lifestyle expert

It’s a question many parents grapple with each summer, as work obligations beckon and kids float their very first “I’m bored” remark of the season: How do parents attain that almost mythical goal known as the work-life balance?

Colton DeVos of Winnipeg, Canada, father of an outgoing and curious 4-year-old boy, is busy planning his upcoming wedding and has a second baby due in July. When he isn’t tending to his family, the young dad works full time as a marketing specialist for Resolute Technology Solutions in Winnipeg — and takes on freelance marketing work as well.

Finding balance isn’t easy, not for DeVos and not for most American families.

The most recent labor statistics (2015) show that seven in 10 moms with kids younger than 18 are in the labor force, up a whopping 47 percent from the year 1975, according to the Pew Research Center. Mothers in 2015 actually took over as the primary breadwinners in four out of 10 U.S. families. And in nearly half (46 percent) of households with a mother and father, both parents were employed full time — up from 31 percent in 1970 — the 2015 study also found.

Working mothers are somewhat more likely than working fathers to say that balancing job and family is difficult, according to Pew.

Life can be stressful for everyone who tries to provide for a family and still find precious downtime with loved ones, notes DeVos. Having both a partner and an employer committed to making ragged schedules work — and also recognizing the good moments for downtime when they appear — is critical to work-life balance in the summer. DeVos says he feels lucky to have both.

“I had a pretty good moment recently when I had an hour-long business video interview,” he told LifeZette. “I was working from home due to housework that needed to get done, and my son was home from day care. Periodically, through the interview, my son would walk past the screen saying, ‘Dad, I’m so bored! Oh. Who are these people?’ Luckily the people on the other end of the video were charmed rather than annoyed. It’s all part of being a dad.”

Colton DeVos with loved ones. The young dad takes on freelance work in addition to juggling family and full-time work.

DeVos said that he sets larger-scope planned activities or trips that he uses as guideposts throughout the summer. “That way, when you’re cramming later on in the evenings or at other times, you know you have a family trip or adventure to look forward to,” he said.

He also tries to plan for the little moments, too, the times his family might share with each other as schedules permit. Trips to the park, organizing new sand toys for the planned beach trip, or breaking out a cool bubble wand and making bubbles in the yard can yield surprisingly “connected” moments between parents and kids.

The DeVos family skips big meal planning, too. “Summer is a great time to do easy barbecues or picnics that are both fun and not a huge time, effort or commitment,” DeVos said.

Terra Wellington, a lifestyle expert based in Los Angeles, offered LifeZette her best advice for striking balance during the summer months:

Take advantage of the late-light hours. Summer offers great opportunities to take part in outdoor activities in the evening. “It can be backyard barbecues, lazy time in the pool, gardening together, going to the local park, biking and hiking, and much more,” said Wellington. “These mini ‘staycation’ activities help reduce stress for both parents and kids because they tend to be less structured, out in nature, and enjoyable face-to-face social time.”

Related: Cold Hard Parenting Truths from the Classic Hockey Movie ‘Miracle’

Find places to explore in your immediate area on weekends. Without the pressure of school work for kids or school-related athletics, parents and children are free to cut loose and enjoy weekends together. “Many travel sites have tips on things to do for out-of-towners; but those tips can be just as valuable for those who live there,” noted Wellington.

Take the time to be out in nature. Studies show that nature — especially greenery — reduces stress, said Wellington.

Related: Exclusive: How One Boy Inspired the Free-Range Parenting Revolution

Parenting and education experts also recommend finding time to read with your kids, in order to avoid what is referred to as the “summer slump.” Many local libraries offer summer reading programs and even contests; take advantage of those.

On average, students lose two months of both math and reading skills over the summer, and physical fitness often takes a hit, too. Staying in shape is often associated with improved academic performance, and if you’re keeping fit as a family over these short summer months — well, that’s a win for everyone.

Carly Wilson is a freelance writer and photographer from South Dakota.