The Neurotic Jewish Mom’s Guide to Summer

By Rebecca Phillips

(Kveller via JTA) — Summer is known for being a lazy, carefree time — but for anxious moms like me, summer can be seriously scary. There’s a host of hidden dangers to worry about, from sunburn to tick bites to water accidents.

During the school year, I’m a pretty laid-back mom — I figure not much can go wrong when my kids spend most of their time in a single building surrounded by kind adults whose jobs are to see to their well-being. But my overprotective instincts come out in full force over the summer. If you’re in the same boat, use these tips to get through summer with your neuroses in check.


Ticks are the No. 1 enemy of summer. These tiny critters hang out exactly where your kids want to play in the summer — on the lawn, in wooded areas, and at their summer camps. They can carry Lyme disease, which can be a nuisance in many cases and a debilitating illness in others. And cases of Lyme are on the rise: Lyme accounts for 82 percent of all tick-borne illnesses, and incidents of these illnesses overall doubled from 2004 to 2016. The Northeast states, plus a few friends in the Midwest, account for 95 percent of all confirmed cases of Lyme disease in recent years.

A daily shower followed by a tick check when your kids come inside can help you get ahead of ticks before they transmit disease. Make sure to check easy-to-miss places, like inside your kids’ belly buttons and around their ears.

Anxiety level: High

Pro tip: I spray my kids’ shoes and summer wardrobe with insect repellent containing permethrin, an insecticide that kills ticks. It’s safe for clothing — and only clothing; no contact with skin! — and remains effective through multiple laundry cycles. Knowing that my kids arrive at their woodsy day camp with fully protected clothing does a lot to calm my tick anxiety. Plus, Slate has a helpful tick guide that should be every neurotic mom’s summer bible.

Sun exposure

Many adult skin cancers originate from childhood sunburns. And unfortunately, cases of adult skin cancers are not rare — melanoma rates in the U.S. have been growing steadily, doubling between 1982 and 2011, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Protecting your kids from the sun now is essential to helping prevent skin cancer later. These days, many camps require parents’ permission for counselors to be able to help kids apply sunscreen. If you’re given the option to sign a release letting counselors help out, do it!

Anxiety level: Medium

Pro tip: Lather up your kids with sunscreen every morning, and reapply or teach them to reapply throughout the day, especially after swimming. And remember, not all sunscreens are equal. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual list of the best sunscreens from both a sun-safety and chemical-safety perspective.

Water hazards

As Jewish parents, it’s our Talmudic obligation to make sure our kids know how to swim. I’ve tried to fulfill this religious requirement by sending my kids to a camp where they swim one or two times a day. Of course, that much time in the water brings its fair share of anxiety. My kids are not strong swimmers, and there are literally hundreds of kids in the pool at one time. Swim-time questions keep me up at night: How can the staff possibly keep track of all of those kids in the pool? Would the swim instructors really be able to tell if a kid was struggling in the water? Are the counselors trained to look for signs of dry drowning? Is my son really old enough to jump off the high dive?

I will admit to occasionally gripping my phone during swim time, prepared for the emergency call. But last year I had a helpful conversation with the head of swimming at my kids’ camp. She showed me exactly what they teach each level of swimmer, and this summer I’m determined not to worry too much.

Anxiety level: Low

Pro tip: Trust that the people who run swimming programs at summer camps know what they’re doing. If you’re worried, as I was, it can be useful to discuss the program and learn how your kid’s camp determines levels and how they monitor the kids in the pool. One of my kids’ camps has a great system: Each swim level has a different color bathing cap associated with it, and the kids are required to wear the caps. That way, instructors can easily identify the kids that need extra eyes on them, and keep tabs on kids who might have crossed into water that’s too deep for them to handle.

Extreme heat

On those 95-degree days, it’s hard not to fear that your child is collapsing from heat exhaustion. If you’re hot from spending the day in the sun — or even 15 minutes in the sun on your lunch break — chances are your kid is even hotter. Little bodies don’t process heat the same way as adults do; kids sweat less, which means they don’t always benefit from our bodies’ natural cooling mechanism. Staying hydrated, and having access to cooler, shady spots throughout the day, are key.

Anxiety level: Medium

Pro tip: Make sure your kid has a full water bottle every morning, and check to see if it’s coming home empty. Plus, a cooling neck towel is an easy and cheap way to give your kids some comfort on super-hot days. Pack it in their camp backpacks, and take that worry off your plate.


Summer can bring out a pernicious kind of childhood bully. Unfettered by the structure of a classroom or by watchful teachers, some kids let their meaner side out over the summer, picking on other kids at camp, in the park, or at the community pool.

Anxiety level: Low

Pro tip: Fortunately, most kids are probably too busy having fun in the sun to notice the antics of summertime bullies. But listen and watch your kids to be sure they’re not affected by other kids’ mean behavior.

All of these worries might have you counting down the days till the school year begins. Fortunately, there’s a simple, time-honored way both you and your kids can deal with many of these anxieties: ice cream.

What’s that? You’re worried too much ice cream will lead to childhood obesity and rotting teeth? Puh-lease. Leave that concern for the truly neurotic moms.

(Rebecca Phillips lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons. She is vice president of Audience & Digital Strategy at 70 Faces Media, which runs Kveller and several other digital Jewish publications.)

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