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The school year is almost over which means many kids will be home between the end of school and the beginning of camp and then switch to the less rigid camp schedule.

Stephanie Simon writes in the Journal of the challenge, especially for those who work from home, of deciding whether to give the kids lots of attention and do fun activities with them or… work.

We’re about a week into summer vacation. Working from my home office, I pause a moment to listen. The house is quiet.

All three kids are shut in their rooms, reading.

I am exceptionally lucky. My two daughters, ages 12 and 5, and my 10-year-old son all love to read. They dive into books and disappear for hours.

This makes my juggle on these summer days so much easier. But it also worries me.

We have enrolled the kids in several week-long camps this summer, and we’ve also hired a babysitter for about a dozen scattered days to ferry them to the pool and the park. But a large number of blank days also loom on the calendar–days my husband and I are counting on our little guys to amuse themselves. We both work from home, so we’ll be here to supervise. But we’re hoping to keep the intrusions to a minimum

Here’s where my mixed emotions on reading come in. The ‘working’ side of working-mom me loves it when the kids immerse themselves in books all day long. The house is quiet. Everyone’s happy. And, of course, reading is a great habit to nurture.

But the mom side of me feels guilty. Sure, it’s good to read, but eight hours a day? It’s beautiful out. I know I should encourage them to ride their bikes, shoot hoops, walk the dog, call friends to come over and play. Those are also healthy habits to nurture–and they seem like the things kids ought to be doing on long, warm summer days.
The problem is, those activities are all much more work for me and my husband. We have to slather on their sunscreen. Check on them regularly to make sure they’re supervising the little one. Mediate squabbles, bandage skinned knees, shush the raucous games that are an inevitable part of their play dates. (Perhaps this is a reason kids are getting less unstructured time, as we discussed last week.)

Plus, we know from experience that as soon as our gang steps outside, other kids from up and down the block flock to our yard. They play for a while, but soon there’s a knock on the door and they all troop in wanting lemonade and snacks and help finding the new jump rope–and it’s one disruption after another.
It’s easier for us when they read. But I can’t shake the nagging feeling that I’m cheating them.

So it comes to this: Sometimes I actually order them to stop reading and watch a movie. That doesn’t give them exercise or sunshine. But at least they’re on the couch together, instead of isolated in their rooms. And from my desk, I can hear them giggling. Which sounds a lot more like summer than silence.

Readers: How do you balance your kids’ activities when they’re out of school? How do you respond when you start feeling that the demands of your job prompt you to cut corners as a parent?

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