The Summer Break Mental Breakdown: Work-From-Home Parents are Not Okay

Well, we find ourselves about halfway through the summer break (at least for those of us who live in America and attend conventionally programmed public schools). Work-from-home parents: how ya doing?

For me, it’s going … okayyyy … ish?

I feel like the summer has gone by a lot faster in some ways than I thought it would. My children are six and eight years old, which makes this officially the easiest age they’ve been so far. They’re finally at the age where they can get snacks for themselves, play together, and generally keep themselves busy when I need time to get things done. They’re silly and fun, and I’ve genuinely enjoyed getting to spend more time with them than I can when school is in session. We’ve had tons of pool days, trips to parks and museums, days at trampoline parks and mini golf. All things considered, it’s been a pretty magical summer!

That said, I am beginning to feel overwhelmed. As a work-from-home parent who also happens to be self-employed, I have the privilege of flexibility. I don’t take that lightly, and I recognize that my life is easier than many working parents. I can set my own schedule without anyone but my over-achieving Capricorn energy breathing down my neck. However, flexibility does not mean lack of responsibility. I still have deadlines, collaborative projects, people waiting on me to get my portion of the work done so that they can do theirs. I still have to scramble to find a quiet place in the house to take important phone calls without my children barging in to tell me what their bowel movement just looked like.

Creating summer magic has meant shoving my work to the side to make room. I’ve been cramming all my tasks into the metaphorical equivalent of that one junk drawer we all have in our kitchens, and now it’s starting to overflow. I can’t keep ignoring it much longer, and every time I walk past it, a strong feeling of dread washes over me. I want to get to it, but it’s difficult to get motivated to even start that work when I know interruptions are coming. I also would like to spend time with my kids during what is—in the grand scheme of things—a very short time in their lives. There will never be another summer when they are six and eight years old. I don’t want to miss out.

So, I have dread and anxiety when I try to get work done because I think I should be with my kids instead, and dread and anxiety when I’m hanging out with my kids because I can feel my obligations stacking to an insurmountable height.

I believe this is the side of work-from-home parenting that fails to be talked about enough. We talk about it like it’s so glamorous—and in some ways it is! It’s wonderful to make your own schedule and be your own boss. For a lot of us, that’s the dream. We forget, however, to mention how absolutely challenging that lifestyle can be during summer vacations, holidays, or even sick days. Our work becomes the last priority, and rightly so. But it’s still a priority. Being the last item on a long list of obligations doesn’t make it any less of an obligation.

This juxtaposition takes a toll on our mental health. We feel like failures. We feel like bad parents. We wonder if we made the wrong career choice, or if maybe everyone would be better off if we quit our jobs and focused solely on parenting (that is, if we even have the financial privilege to entertain that idea at all). It’s a lot to manage.

So, to the work-from-home moms and dads who are counting down the days until school resumes, be kind to yourselves. Practice a lot of self-compassion and as much self-care as you can. Try to be present—both when you’re with your kids and when you’re with your work.

Just a few more weeks left, friends. We can do this.


Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Pre-order her book Beyond Self-Care Potato Chips: Choosing Nourishing Self-Care in a Quick-Fix Culture, launching October 29th, 2024.

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