What if Summer Child Care Was a Man's Problem?

Last year during a particularly brutal heatwave, males around the world made news for wearing skirts - their creative answer to cumbersome dress codes that mandated pants (but made no mention of men in skirts) even in the sweltering temperatures.

A few snaps of men in skirts later and the dress codes were swiftly changed, prompting women everywhere to issue a collective, "Huh?!"

"The author missed another crucial lesson,'" wrote a commenter on a New York Times article entitled, "Lessons From the Great Male Skirt Rebellion of 2017"

"When men complain, policies get changed."

So it is with another rite of summer - the great child care breakdowns of July and August. Every year, the process of filling children's days between the last day of one school year and the first school bell of the next becomes a frantic cha-cha of pricey camps, family favors, and, if we're being honest, missed workdays.

One new study says over 30 percent of parents are forced to take unexpected time off in the summer. That the job of doing this dance largely falls to mothers (keepers of the Mental Load) can be measured in answers to a New York Times query asking parents how they solve their summer child care problem. Every single detailed response came from a woman.

The author's chipper conclusions - "So many ideas! Maybe next year I'll start planning all this come March!" - were not well received:

The current summer situation is a total disaster for working families who are already stretched to the limit after using their vacation days on a snow day here, a half-day there during the school year. Let's call it what it is -- a major driver of inequality in the workplace.

How millions of families provide care for their children for almost one-quarter of the year is a serious issue, with economic, gender and educational implications. And for women (who do most of the schlepping), patching together care over the summer can mean more lost productivity and yet another rationale for work-place discrimination.

These are real, serious issues! Instead of treating this like bubble-gum topic, how about taking a hard, critical look. Just because it has to do with women and children does not mean it is not important!


Solving The Summer Child Care Problem

Make no mistake - there are employers stepping up. "Best of" lists like Working Mother feature growing numbers of organizations offering help including back-up care. The same study that mentioned missed workdays noted increasing numbers of employers accommodating parents with the ability to work more summer hours at home.

But the numbers working at such flexible companies rang in only at around 50 percent - meaning there's still nearly half frantically dancing the summer cha-cha. And a soon-to-be-released study of ours shows just how hard it is to find summer programs that support employees' whole day. That's a lot of lost productivity, meaning there's room (and good reason) for employers to do more.

Where We Go From Here

Here's the thing: the summer of 2018 will end. Working parents (most of them mothers) will sigh a heavy sigh of relief as they put their children back on the school bus, resolved to book camps for next year (in, you know...February). Then they'll do the whole thing all over again next summer.

"There is a huge disconnect between the amount of vacation and holidays given to the average American worker and the amount of summer vacation for a schoolchild," wrote one mother to the New York Times about the summer child care problem. "I am not sure how the average family fills in the gaps."

One wonders what would happen if the summer dance was mostly done by men.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.