The New York Times recently published an article about families that can’t afford summer, and I’m one of them. And with over 27% of families with children living under the poverty level in San Antonio, I’m not the only one. There are a variety of types of families that can’t afford the high cost of summer childcare, from two-parent households where one or both parents work, to single parent families like myself. And we don’t all look like what you might you imagine. Chances are, there are a number of families in your own backyard who are in this very predicament. As a single working mama of four, full-time camps and activities all summer long for my kids isn’t an option in this chapter of my life. A part of me wants to mourn the loss of the days when I was able to stay home with them during the summers and didn’t need to worry about full-time summer care, but I try to remember to be grateful for all the summers I did have with them.
I’m fortunate to have family in town—my mother helps a tremendous amount with my kids when I can’t be there, and I’ve also been able to utilize resources like the SA Food Bank’s Summer Food Service Program. Through this program I’ve been able to locate a free half-day camp for my kids to attend, alleviating some of the hardship of summer childcare while providing my kids with a morning of activities and two healthy meals. I could feel embarrassed and not share about my need for this service, but this is where I am in life. I’m not in a place where I can let pride prevent me from seeking the help that I need, and I hope that other families out there can feel encouraged to reach out for the help they may need as well.
There a number of city programs aimed towards lower-income families, but like the mother in the Times’ article states, signing up for many of them can be like waiting for concert tickets. And once the spaces are filled, they’re gone. If you haven’t planned out your kids’ summer care and activities by early spring—especially when applying for city programs or scholarships—you can find yourself out of luck. This is a stressful situation for families in need.
I wish I had the catchall answer to solve this problem. If your family is still in need of help with childcare and support through the summer months, here are some good local programs to look into: SA Youth, SA Parks & Rec Summer Youth Program (you can even see which programs still have openings here); the YMCA offers scholarships for its programs; Joven SA has a very specific area it serves but they do offer a free summer program; and United Way and Catholic Charities are two other great resources to look to for overall help throughout the year.
It’s hard not being able to be at home with my kids or afford all the fun camps they used to do pre-divorce. They are still able to do a number of them during their time with their dad later this summer, and it’s hard getting over the feeling of not being able to be the fun parent. But life is what you make it. And although I may not be there during all the daylight hours, I can still make the most of our evenings and weekends throughout the summer. We were blessed to be invited to take a trip to the coast with a family friend to kick off the summer, and that was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise.
As far as making the most of my time with my kids after working hours and on the weekends, there are tons of free and cost-effective things to do in San Antonio. Some of our favorite summer activities over the years have included free outdoor screenings with Slab Cinema, going to the zoo (a family membership is a whole heck of a lot cheaper than summer camp), visiting the parks around town (there’s an awesome new one with a splash pad on the Southside I can’t wait to take them to), going to the city pools (San Pedro Springs is my favorite), and even just going out in our own front yard to play in the sprinklers or watch them ride their bikes are great ways to spend quality time together while creating great memories.
During my summers growing up as a kid, I attended the occasional activity day at our local rec center, but the rest of our summer days were filled with playing outdoors with friends, exploring the world on our bikes until the sun went down. We were free range kids, and I don’t have to feel guilty if my kids’ summer isn’t filled to the brim either.
When we’re stuck in that hard place of finding opportunities and care for our kids when the money isn’t there—anytime of the year, and especially in summer—it takes perseverance and a positive outlook. So although I may not be a parent who can afford a host of paid summer camps for my kids, there are still a number of resources and ways I can make the best with what I can offer. And the biggest piece of all that is love and care for their well-being.