The Ridiculous, Misogynistic, Endlessly Infuriating Summer Camp Scramble
One guess as to which parent typically pays the price.
Yesterday at 8:30am, summer camp registration opened for the one and only affordable summer day camp option in my small town.
It’s always a shitshow. A high-blood-pressure, where’s-the-Xanax, why-is-our-country-like-this shitshow.
This year, I had the National Institute of Standards and Technology website open in a separate browser window so I could see the official U.S time. At 8:30 and 1 second, I clicked refresh on the camp webpage and registration options opened. I signed my 11-year-old up for his camp first — the coveted Teen Travel camp — my hands shaking, my heart rate through the roof. After furiously putting the camp weeks I wanted into my cart, at 8:31am and 45 seconds, I clicked back to the registration page, and every single week of Teen Travel camp was filled.
IT WAS NOT EVEN 8:32.
I then scrambled to sign my daughter up for her camp (slots still available thank god) and rushed through the various forms I had to fill out so that I could check out within the deadline of 15 minutes without losing my cart and what was left of my sanity.
It wasn’t so easy for some of my friends. My friend and neighborcouldn’t register her upcoming first grader due to a glitch in the registration system. She began calling the camp’s office number at 8:09am in the hopes of getting it fixed, but couldn’t get through until 8:58am, only to learn that all but two weeks were totally full.
What about all the parents who don’t have flexible schedules and can’t sit in front of their computers hitting refresh every two seconds / speed dialing camp offices at 8:30am on a Monday? No childcare for you this summer, haha! Unless you want to pay an egregious sum. Another day camp near me costs $712.50 a week, and I live in rural New York. (Oh wait, half the weeks are sold out there, too.)
The worst part about all of this is that our crazy stories aren’t crazy. They are the norm in the U.S. Summer camp registration is impossible all over the country — there aren’t enough slots available and camps are hideously expensive. Here’s a bar chart based on a 2019 survey of approximately 1000 U.S. parents conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP). Nearly one in five parents reported there aren’t enough camp slots for kids in their community, and more than half said cost is a big challenge:
CAP estimated that in 2018, a typical family of four could expect to pay more than $3,000 for summer programs, which is 20 percent of the average family’s take-home pay for the entire summer. This is more than double the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ child care affordability threshold of 7 percent of total household income.
Who ends up paying the price for all this insanity? Moms, of course. I mean, yes, of course, some dads and other caregivers too. But far more moms than dads do the mental labor to fill childcare gaps — researching available options, creating complicated spreadsheets, sitting at the ready at their computers at 8:30am. (I had a text chain going yesterday morning with a handful of local couples, and interestingly, it seemed to be only the moms who were dealing with camp registration.)
The repercussions can be far more dire, too, especially for working moms. CAP’s survey found that in 57 percent of families surveyed, a lack of childcare over the summer meant that at least one parent planned to make a job change. The survey didn’t ask which parent made the sacrifice, but we know that it’s typically mothers, and that the career sacrifices moms make in response to childcare challenges harm their career prospects down the line.
Here’s data from a related 2022 McKinsey report based on interviews with just over 1,000 parents. It found that more than one-third of women who had voluntarily left the workforce had done so at least in part due to childcare problems, compared with one-fifth of men:
The most frustrating thing is that it really doesn’t have to be this way. It isn’t this way in so much of the developed world. Time and time again, politicians and voters have made the conscious choice to do this to American parents, and it’s frankly disgusting.
What could it be like instead? At the risk of inciting all of you to abscond to northern Europe (but seriously, maybe we should?), I’d like to share a bit about how Sweden handles these kinds of things:
Parents get 480 days of paid parental leave per child to share between them. These days must be claimed before the child turns 8.
Children between the ages of 6 and 13 are offered out-of-school care before and after school hours and during school breaks.
Parents receive a monthly Child Allowance of SEK 1,050 ($101) per child and can use it to offset the cost of preschool, which only costs about SEK 200 ($19) more than this allowance per month.
If parents have to take time off to care for sick children, they are entitled to continue receiving 80% of their pay.
Yes, okay, Sweden’s taxes are higher than in the U.S. But they’re not that bad for the middle class. According to a recent Vox analysis, the average Swede pays less than 27 percent of their income in direct taxes. And of course, with those taxes, they get free health insurance, highly subsidized childcare, free after-school and holiday care, paid leave when kids get sick, and more — I can only imagine that these benefits ultimately save most parents quite a bit of money.
Plus, they don’t have to maniacally check camp websites first thing on a Monday morning.
What are your camp registration horror stories? Share them in the comments!
And now for this week’s …..
Today I’m discussing this Instagram post from Janet Lansbury, the founder of RIE parenting. (For more on RIE parenting, listen to this podcast I recorded witha while back. There's a transcript too.)
So, here are my thoughts.
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