Being a working parent means a lot of things, but above all it means being ridiculously organised. Our family life is full of calendars, meal planning, weekend lunch box prepping and every moment of the day accounted for. But as school holidays approach, a whole new level of efficiency is necessary.
I have had to negotiate school holidays as a work from home parent and as Easter approaches I will do so as an office worker. Here are 21 tips to get us through it.
- Plan early. Mark every single holiday date (including non-pupil teacher development days) into your calendar and work out a rough plan as to what you intend to do. Let extended family know if you think you will be relying on them so that they can do the same.
- Get on the mailing lists. There are so many places that put together exciting school holiday activities for kids. From coding workshops to soccer clinics to horse riding camps. Investigate the things your child likes doing and get on the mailing lists of the places that provide them. Spots fill up quickly over the school holidays and this makes sure you are first in line.
- Set up Google Alerts. I find that these are a great way to be notified of anything exciting happening in my local area that my kids might enjoy. This is how you do it.
- Organise the swap. Like many mums, I work part time. So I can definitely offer my help to others on my days off and I am grateful to those friends who look after my children when I need to work. Let’s face it, an eight year old with a friend can be a lot less work than an eight year old begging to be entertained. Just make sure that you co-ordinate calendars well in advance and that everyone is being fair with their time and expectations. Just as a side-note, please don’t expect work from home parents to be a default babysitting service. I did not have this experience when I worked from home, but I know others that have.
- Register early. If your child is attending any organised holiday activities, make sure that you register as early as you can. Vacation care fills up quickly so you need to be on the front foot.
- Consider a morning nanny. In order to beat traffic, I need to leave at about 7:00am. School starts at 8:30am and my lovely neighbours are kind enough to take my son to school with them. School holiday mornings are a little trickier. I don’t necessarily want my kids’ day to have to start at 6:00am just because mine does. Most holiday activities (aside from long-hours vacation care) don’t start until mid-morning anyway. That’s where a morning nanny can be very helpful. We definitely couldn’t afford to employ a nanny full-time during the holidays, but morning support makes sense.
- Take strategic days off. My par- time schedule means that I will be able to spend some holiday time with the kids. And I am still considering taking a day off here and there to extend that time. While I’d rather “save” my leave for a more extended break, sometimes those extra days are worth more.
- Don’t feel you have to do ALL the stuff. I have a tendency to fill every school holiday minute. But I know the kids will just want to relax on the days I am at home. These will be days that we get up late, mooch around in our PJs, make hot chocolates and play board games. Some of the best parts of holidays really.
- Work in a flexible way. If you are able to work remotely, negotiate with your supervisor as to whether that might be possible during the holidays. Perhaps you could work in the evenings or part of the day while still being able to spend some time with the kids.
- Share leave with your partner. My husband has taken the second week of the holidays off and I am very grateful. While I’d prefer to take our leave together so that we can holiday as a family, sometimes we just need to be practical. And the kids are going to love having their dad around all week.
- Extended family. The kids have a wonderful relationship with their grandparents which I am so thankful for. Both my parents still work, but they also have a level of flexibility and are happy to take the kids for a day here or there. Will the boys eat badly, be terribly spoiled and watch too much TV? Definitely. That’s what grandparents are for.
- Set clear boundaries. For those that work from home, clear boundaries need to be set, particularly at school holiday time. I found the most effective thing to do was to outline my time in “chunks” and alternate between spending time with the kids and getting work done.
- Organise activities in advance. In order to achieve those boundaries, I would set out activities in advance for the day. Small craft projects, games, challenges and so on. This list of indoor activities is a great place to start. This way the kids had something to do while I was working and could avoid the holiday cry of “I’m bored”. Sometimes.
- Don’t over-commit the week following. When I worked for myself, I had to accept that I couldn’t be as productive during school holiday time. However, I continually made the mistake of promising too much of my time to clients the week thereafter. Make sure that you give yourself a buffer to get back into things once the kids are back at school.
- Let the guilt go. Working motherhood and guilt seem like the best of friends, particularly at school holiday time. But the fact remains that kids have about 14 weeks of holidays and very few workplaces are that generous. My career is important and I have made a choice that I am comfortable with and that suits my family. I have to own that choice. Even during school break. And if letting that guilt go is hard to do, you might like to read this and know you are definitely not alone.
- Make time with the school kid. With my littlest at (long) daycare, school holidays always marked time I could spend alone with my eldest. A fairly rare but important occurrence. This year will be different as we won’t be able to take advantage the daycare days when I am in the office. So we will try to organise some one-on-one time during the weekends instead.
- Give notice to your regular carers. If you have an after-school nanny, make sure that you give them an early heads-up regarding what’s going on prior to the holidays. Check your contract for any notice periods needed. Perhaps consider whether you can employ them in the mornings of the school holidays or continue to employ them during their regular hours so that you can take a break.
- Register for events with a friend. If you have another family in your circle in a similar situation, sign up your kids for holiday events together. You can share the lifts plus I think trying new things is always a bit easier with a buddy by your side.
- Utilise local university students. Check your local community noticeboards (or Facebook group) to see if there are any university students keen to work as babysitters over their holidays. We have quite a few in our neighbourhood. Older siblings of family friends may also be looking out for work. I think it’s always easier to leave your children with someone you know.
- Holiday camps. As a kid I spent many happy school holidays at holiday camps and they still exist. The type that you actually stay at for a week and feel like you are in American young adult novel. They aren’t a particularly cheap option and may not be appropriate for young kids, but I do remember having a complete blast at them. Particularly for tween girls, I think an opportunity to reinvent oneself amongst a group of strangers is a liberating experience.
- Don’t forget about yourself. In between all this child-care negotiation, it can feel like cheating to spend any of the acquired time on yourself. If you aren’t working, surely you should be spending every waking moment with your holidaying children? I don’t think that’s healthy, or even achievable. It’s important to put aside time for you during the crazy holiday time because, let’s face it, this is kind of your holiday too.
How do you negotiate school holidays when you still have to work?