Surviving the School Holidays

If you're wondering how awesome my recent “break” was let me tell you this, I’m a mum, it was school holidays and my son found his recorder! 

I got back to work and my colleges asked the usual questions “Did you have a nice time?” “I hope it didn’t go too quick”. (they don’t have kids in case you’re wondering). 

School holidays - These two words strike dread and fear into the hearts of all working parents. The average annual school holidays is at least three times the annual leave a full time working parent is entitled to take which leaves a big gap you will need to fill, the question is how?  

You can try a strategic approach and take your leave separately to your partner, but this won’t cover the entire time, plus it means you never get to go on a holiday together. And that’s just families with two parents. How do single parents manage?

School schedules were obviously set in the days when most families had a stay at home parent and when the cost of living was achievable on a single salary. As we all know this just isn’t the case anymore. 

Aside from the practicalities, there is also the emotional toll of feeling that the school holidays should be a time you get to have fun with your kids and a chance for your family to spend some precious time together. The reality however can prove much different for all concerned. 

Still if I remain positive I can think of some good things. I know there will be some quality family time, some Instagrammable moments of joy (#makingmemories) and a sense of relief that nobody has to do the school run. However, there will also be days when it’ll pour with rain, when I’ll have a row with my partner over who can afford to take another day off work and one too many moments when my kids will decide they need something right when I need to take an important work call. On those days, I will stick two fingers up to anybody who tells me to treasure the holidays and I will do what I have to do to survive. As a working parent school holiday survivor here are my top tips:

Get good at negotiating

You’ll need to brush up on your negotiating skills and get the right people on side. First you’ll need to negotiate with your employer to ensure you can take time off and where possible work flexibly. Then you’ll need to negotiate with your partner in working out a fair system for whose taking what time off and where you can it helps enourmously if you can enlist family (some negotition may be required) to get on board and help out. 

Plan ahead

The school holidays are filled with lots of camps, fun events and extra curricular activities that can give you some much needed support (plus of course fun for the kids) but these can book out early so don’t leave this to the last minute, get in early and see what is available in your area. 

Connect with other parents

If your anything like me you’ve probably got OOSH covering your before and afterschool care arrangements and then in between you have to squeeze in the obligatory extra curricular activities, which as working parents we often over commit to as a way of making ourselves feel better for having to work all the time. This doesn’t make it easy to meet other parents. It’s worth bearing in mind though having some connections with other school parents can be a real life line when it comes to the school holidays, not to mention you might even make some really good friends. So make an effort to get to know some of the other parents. You won’t be the only person struggling to get through the school holidays so setting up a few play dates is an obvious and effective solution. 

Food planning

I’m calling this ‘food planning’ rather than ‘meal planning‘ for a reason. Kids can eat their own bodyweight during the school holidays and will endlessly ask what they can have to eat. To avoid this becoming stressful and taking over your day plan out snacks and maybe even consider doing what I do, pack a lunchbox similar to what they take to school and let them know this is all they can have throughout the day. 

Set aside time for work and play

If your planning on getting some work done from home you will need to make a plan and stick to it. Look at your day and work out the best times to get some work in, then let the kids know when work time is and agree what the rules are with them. The most important thing with this plan is you can’t revert to working during “play time”. As hard as it can be, taking that quick call or answering an email when you’ve set aside time with the kids sends the wrong message. How can you expect them to leave you alone during work time if you don’t keep up with your end of the bargain? If you’re going to work then work and if you’re going to spend time with the kids then spend time with the kids. Multitasking never works and only leaves you feeling like you’re not doing anything right,. 

Get a grip on guilt

You’re a working parent so you should be well versed with this one. Yes you feel guilty when you see friends on social media having fun with their kids during the school holidays while you are struggling to keep all of the balls in the air. As a working parent there will most likely be times in the school holidays where you have to work. This will mean you have no choice but to say no to certain things, stick them in front of a screen and when screens have worn out their welcome have a bored child on your hands. Feeling guilty doesn’t help here and will only add to your stress. Remember the school holidays is an opportunity for the kids to break from the school routine so as long as you have relaxed the usual ridged structure that is required during term time and you set aside some time for fun don’t let guilt creep in during times where some work integration is required. 

Don’t forget about yourself

It's’ easy during the school holidays to focus only on the kids. What are you going to plan? how many play dates can you organise? are they having fun? During term time, it’s standard practice for parents to have long lists pinned to the fridge detailing which family member needs to be where and when. Enjoy the break from this busy routine and think of ways to make the most of this. I like to do things like staying in my pyjamas until lunchtime or take the afternoon off to go out for afternoon tea together. Even if it’s just one or two things I find it helps to plan something fun we could never do during term time. 

Get physical

Pack in plenty of physical activity, your kids will be easier to be around if they’ve expended some energy, you’ll feel less guilty about some screen time when you need to catch up on some work and it’s a fun and free way to enjoy some time together. Plus it means you’ll be getting in some exercise as well, which as a working parent is always difficult to fit in. 

Now for my final tip, if your child is learning to play the recorder make sure you hide it somewhere they wont find it! 

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