Balancing Work and Play During the School Holidays
School holidays can trigger all sorts of emotions for working parents. This is often irrespective of the length of the holidays or the number of children that need to be organised! Rather it signifies one additional thing to concentrate on and think about and luck always ensures that holidays fall at the time when work is the most pressured and busy!
While many parents are able to schedule at least some leave over the long summer holiday period, for most it is impractical or impossible to take time off work when their children are home from school in the April, July or September term holidays. For many of the families I work with, there is a feeling of tremendous pressure as they try to grapple with providing their child with a busy and happy holiday itinerary, juggling their work schedule and trying to ensure that they can spend at least a little bit of time with their child/ren during their time off school. For many parents this is where guilt kicks in – the feeling of not being able to provide enough or correctly and worrying that their child will somehow suffer because of it.
It is really important for parents to remember that they are not alone in these feelings and that these thoughts are valid. It can also be helpful to know that they are not alone, and that the majority of parents will work through at least some of their child’s school holidays. Finally, it is reassuring for my clients to hear that there are ways, with proper planning, to make school holidays less stressful and even enjoyable, for working parents.
Here are my 5 Top tips:
1. Quality over Quantity: This saying can truly be applied by working parents when it comes to spending time with your children during the school holidays. However limited the time is that you have with your child, try to use it to do something that is fun and that they will remember. This is probably something that the schedule wouldn’t allow for during term time such as sitting up later with them watching a movie with popcorn or spending half an hour doing a craft activity with them 1 to 1. If it is something they are excited to do, they will remember you were there and are less likely to focus on when you weren’t.
2. Be Kind To Yourself : School holidays demands multi – tasking in a way that isn’t required when your children are in childcare and many parents find this overwhelming and are exhausted just by the thought of it. Juggling a busy work schedule while also planning and overseeing your child’s holidays activities in your absence, is a huge mental load and shouldn’t be underestimated. Therefore, in the lead up to and during the school holiday period, self care is particularly important. This may mean accepting paid help, saying no to a social invitation or settling for dinner/s of take away food! It is also helpful if you are feeling stressed to make time for the things that will relax you. This may be exercise, long hot baths or date nights with your partner. By scheduling self care and prioritising your own mental wellbeing at the same time as scheduling your children’s arrangements, you are likely to come to the end of the school holidays feeling less burned out.
3. Be where you are: This is often easier said than done. However, wherever possible and barring any unforeseen events eg: an unwell child, while you’re at work, be at work mentally and try not to worry about the kids or what’s happening at home. In the same way, when you’re with your children, try to disconnect from work tasks or pressures by not accepting phone calls or ignoring emails until you’re back at work. If you’ve decided to take some extra time off work to be with your kids, try not to resent being away from the office at this time, but accept that you are with your children now, and this is where you need to be in this moment. In order to do this, feeling comfortable with who is filling in for you (at work or at home) is vital!
4. Make Dinner An Event: Even if you haven’t scheduled any extra time off work, most parents are home in time for dinner. As it is school holidays, it is ok for children to be eating a little later and they can wait for you. Without the pressure of homework, this can be a lovely time to connect with all of your children and hear how their day was and what they are looking forward to tomorrow. These discussions allow you to feel a part of what is going on with them even if you are not physically present. To help children of all ages feel a part of this, each one can have a set task to get dinner ready eg: setting the table, helping you prepare a salad or getting the napkins out. It can also be a good time to have a treat for everyone eg: ice cream for dessert which they may not usually have during term time. Creating meaningful moments of togetherness can help foster connection and a stronger bond with your child, even if they’ve been away from you all day.
5. Good Planning: Plan, plan and plan some more. As with any busy time of the day, week or year, planning and preparing a realistic schedule can be your saving grace. Starting well ahead of holidays, create a chart encompassing every day of the holiday period for each child in your household. Before finalising anything, think about what you want each of your children to do during the holidays and what days suit you best for them to be busy. A colour coded calendar can be a good way to do this with different colours for different family members and different activities. It may also help for you to communicate any adjustment to the expectations of your workplace over the school holiday period. Even if you can’t take time off, you may need to allow for later drop offs at holiday programmes or for less meetings if there is a chance that you need to be based at home.
There is no question that school holidays provide a challenge for any parents who work – even flexibly or for themselves. With most employers only offering 4 weeks of paid annual leave and many schools closed for up to 12 weeks a year, the discrepancy is clear to see and common place. Working parents can alleviate some of the guilt and still enjoy time with their children by creating quality pockets of time with each child, prioritising self care, planning and being mindful to be where you are at any given moment, regardless of where you’d rather be! With so many parents in the same boat, holiday programs are filled with peers for your kids and when they get home from their activities, your children can look forward to special time with you. Please don’t be too hard on yourself! Happy holidays!