As the mid-August whiff of September hits my nose, my heart starts racing with joy because I can see the light at the end of that long summer tunnel. (It’s back to school time!)

Instead of being sole counsellor at Camp Mom, or sending my daughter elsewhere for care, I can fully focus – uninterrupted – on my work. I find happiness in knowing our lives will soon resume a set schedule and my child will receive a balance of education, art, music and movement all day. Yet, I feel guilty for looking forward to her return to school when I see the social media posts of parents lamenting the end of free time with their children, enjoying one another’s company and doing fun things.  

I love my child beyond measure, but I’ve never been a mom who “plays” with her, aside from a few board games I don’t dislike, or our regular video game bowling tournaments. She’s outdoorsy and I’m not, which adds another layer of guilt, especially when I’m working at home and she’s left to find indoor entertainment for herself unless neighbourhood friends are outside to play with. Thankfully, she loves arts and crafts and can keep herself well-occupied for most of the day, with minimal TV and tablet time. Yet I’ve spent hundreds of dollars sending her to camps for a day here and there because I feel guilty not facilitating more fun and entertainment for her throughout the summer.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I’m a great mom. I limit her time on electronics and provide healthy meals and snacks. I talk with her about everything and anything, and expect her to read regularly. I try to teach her life skills, especially ones that benefit both of us, like making me coffee or putting together her own lunch. I shouldn’t feel guilty for giving my child a mix of pre-arranged camps, time with her grandparents, swimming lessons, play dates, trips to local parks, splash pads or beaches – and a reasonable dose of boredom, which experts all agree is important in developing her creativity. My wild and free childhood in the seventies sure didn’t have that much pre-planning done for my amusement!

Julie Green, a work-at-home Toronto mom to a ten-year-old son, feels similarly.

“I have ambivalent feelings about summer. During the school year, between the school drop-offs and pick-ups and homework, I get so little time to relax or work. Yet I also look forward to spending quality time with my son,” Green states. “But the reality of school vacation hits pretty quickly. When I was a kid, we just roamed the neighbourhood on BMX bikes with friends. I wasn’t in my mom’s hair. My son will be attending a few special needs camps some weeks, but the rest of the time he’s at home with me, so I feel responsible for planning something fun for him, while also trying to squeeze in some errands and work in between. By the time September rolls around, I’m relieved because, frankly, I’m burnt out. But immediately I feel guilty because I know these years with him are precious. What’s that quote about how few summers we have with our kids? Yeah, that.

However, Heather Jones, also a Toronto-area work-at-home mom to two boys, aged ten and five, feels nothing but excitement.

“I count the days until school starts,” she says. “I love these guys; love it more when they go to school for a few hours a day and I can work in peace without interruption.”

“I believe the end of summer is complex for everyone,” Kelly Bos, a family/relationship therapist acknowledges. “Many parents start mourning the loss of summer in late July, while others can’t wait for the structure and routine of September.”

Bos confirms that while September does seem to have all the answers for a fresh start, we can also feel guilty… like we are wishing our children away.

“We – as parents – are always hoping that the next stage will be more organized, provide more adult time, etc.  An important focus is to stay in the moment you are in. Make today work. This isn’t to say you can’t feel happy about not having to figure out daily childcare, but always waiting for the next school year, age and stage can also lead you to missing out on the now. You can address the guilt by acknowledging that summer and September are great for different reasons. It’s something parents no doubt believe anyway, and nicely reconciles a parent’s love for their kids and enjoyment of a predictable routine.”

So celebrate school’s return or lament the end of summer’s time together with the kids. There’s no rule book on parental emotions, and guilt only keeps you up at night when you just might need that sleep for your last summer adventures.

Jackie Gillard is a freelance writer who lives on the suburban fringe of Toronto. Between writing the thousands of stories she has in her mind, she is busy as the second wife to her second husband (no, she’s not a sister-wife) and mom to a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old daughter and a teen stepson. Coffee fuels her days and she used to enjoy wine occasionally in the evenings, but now she generally falls asleep after saying goodnight to her daughter. You’ll find links to Jackie’s published work on her neglected blog MyPapayaJambalaya or you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see what shenanigans she’s up to.