The feeling of euphoria when your children break up for the summer holidays is like no other – especially for them.
Instead of being forced to sit on dusty carpets in sauna-hot classrooms, they're now FREEEEEEEEEEE at last.
Six weeks of unfettered, carefree mucking about lies ahead. It is beyond any historical doubt the best time of any kid's life.
But for the Modern Parent, the summer hols are a minefield of pressures and stress. In days gone by, our mums would open the door, set us loose, and then welcome us home for a Sunday roast and a long overdue bath six weeks later.
But the Modern Parent has Modern Pressures –the pressure to be perfect, the pressure to ensure our kids have 'the best time of their lives', the pressure to have a camera-full of holiday experiences and anecdotes to share/boast about with fellow competitive parents when the children return to school in September.
The pressure, the pressure!
It's a tough job this parenting lark – especially in the summer holidays.
So here's our guide to the Top 7 Summer Parenting Pressures – and how to handle them.
1.'Would anyone like to look after my kids?' aka Childcare
It's great to properly connect with your children after an arduous school year, and stay-at-home-parents have that to look forward to. But for mums and dads who work – either in factories, offices or even at home – childcare is a serious issue. It's possible for some parents to split their holidays, but where's the fun in that? After all, the summer holidays are a rare opportunity to spend proper family time together.
SOLUTION: Playschemes are fun, activity based 'club' style childcare during the school holidays also known as summer camps. Just type 'summer playschemes' and your location into a search engine and you'll find lots of choice in your area.
I send my three children to London-based Team Camp for a week of respite but for the whole of the UK, Summerfun4kids is a great resource.
2. 'Da-ad, I'm bored' aka Keeping your children entertained
Boredom was only invented 10 years ago. Before then, there was no such thing as a child who constantly needed to be entertained. A box of matches and a pile of wood was all it took to set their creative juices on fire (well, it was on the council estate where I grew up).
Failing that, a discarded sofa or a burnt out car on wasteground would suffice, allowing kids to play 'Dad's Home' to their heart's content.
Now, though, boredom is an ever-present threat, especially during the school holidays.
"Mum/Dad, I'm bored," is a stock phrase, even for the child who is watching SpongeBob while playing Minecraft and working their way through the games on Friv – all at the same time.
Of course, in an ideal world, we could all afford childcare (see above) or children's entertainers, or au pairs to do the housework. But that mountain of dirty clothes and sinkful of dirty dishes won't wash themselves – you're going to have to do it.
And while you're skivvying, you can't be crafting, or baking, or playing Xbox with your kids.
SOLUTION: Aside from the aforementioned showing them the door with a 'see you later' wave (most definitely not recommended for the under-eights), loom bands are the way to overcome a child's boredom.
They can make jewellery, swimwear, sandals – even a dress (though don't expect to make £170,000 from it as this mum anticipated. Ain't going to happen!).
My kids spend hours quietly weaving the bands into all kinds of patterns and shapes for me to clog up the vacuum cleaner afterwards. Click here for everything you need to know about the UK's biggest playground craze.
3. 'Can we have something to eat?' aka Feeding your kids again, and again, again.
Where do they put it all? They're only little. Their legs are skinny; their tummies flat. But they are ALWAYS hungry.
During the summer holidays, my kitchen becomes a 24/7 running buffet. It certainly makes you appreciate what incredible value for money school meals are. For the princely sum of a couple of quid, our children get a hot lunch, a pud and as much fruit as they can handle.
But during the holidays, you realise that these things don't cost a couple of pounds a day in the real world (unless, of course, you send your child to school with a packed lunch), It's not just the extra expense of re-stocking a rapidly emptying fridge every day (times this by a factor of 10 if you have teenagers), but also the sheer workload and hassle of making piles and piles of sandwiches or freeze-ahead homemade meals.
SOLUTION: If you want to make your own packed lunches, click here for some fantastic recipes. Better still, show your kids how to make their own.
4.'I think I've broken my leg' aka scrapes and bumps, cuts and bruises
If you don't want to wrap your kids in cotton wool, then you are going to accept a certain amount of jeopardy in their lives.
Of course, nothing hurts a parent more than the sight of their offspring getting hurt, but nurturing emotions aside, these injuries tend to happen at the last convenient of times: just when you're coming to the final chapter of your Kate Atkinson thriller, for example, or when you're counting the minutes before your wife comes home from work to relieve you of childcare duty (or perhaps that's just me!).
What you have to remember more than anything is that, to your child, a bump or graze is not a minor swelling or a slough of the skin – but a major world-ending event that the entire universe must know about and be sympathetic to.
SOLUTION: Let your kids live dangerous (but safely), In the foreword to the book 'Fifty Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), Mark Petrich, leading studio director at Exploratorium in San Francisco writes: "Dangerous activities offer real ways to encourage phenomena first-hand, and provide opportunities to make careful observations and generate new questions.
"And getting 'stuck' can be scary, silly and fun."
So what kind of dangerous stuff should you let your kids do?
The book suggests: Drive a nail; Make a bomb in a bag; Stand on a roof; Climb a tree; Make a rope swing; Lick a 9-volt batter; Spend an hour blindfolded. And my favourite...Poison your friend (not as drastic as it sounds: it involves baking biscuits, but adding a bit too much salt to a few of them, then getting friends to play 'Dare' to see if they select a 'poisoned' cookie).
If you prefer a more organised approach to the whizzes and bangs in your child's life, the Royal Institution is organising a series of summer schools for all age groups, with an emphasis on hands-on science and fun experiments.
5. 'Are we there yet?' aka Travelling with kids
The 'Are we there yet?' phenomenon goes back to the Viking invasions when puce-green Norseman – nauseous on the crashing North Sea – asked their skipper the immortal question several hours before finally arriving in Northumberland.
Since then, it has been uttered by kids in every conceivable vessel of transport, from stage coaches in the Wild West (especially when the Indians attacked) to cars popping to the supermarket five minutes away.
By and large, the question can be ignored or drowned out by turning up the volume up on the CD player. But it becomes as irritating as a drunken wasp in your ear when stuck in Bank Holiday traffic en route to Southend-on-Sea.
SOLUTION: There are many games you can play during a seven hour journey to the coast but when you, and your patience, runs out from playing i-Spy, my advice would be to invest in a Nintendo DS or portable DVD player – and an in-car charger to plug into the hole that used to be there for cigarette lighters. Failing that, pull into the nearest service station, have a drink, buy some earplugs and get your partner to drive.
6. 'I need the toilet' aka Public inconvenience
Think of a scenario when this request would be least welcome and times it by 10 when you're setting off for your Big Holiday Abroad.
As you're about to leave the house to go to the airport? Tick.
As you've just set off in the taxi on the way to the airport? Tick.
As you wait to go through security at the airport? Tick.
The milli-second after you've boarded the plane? Tick.
The micro-second after the seatbelt signs have come on for landing? Tick.
The moment the plane's wheels touch the tarmac? Tick.
SOLUTION: Aside from getting your children to urinate at every single convenient opportunity and depriving them of all liquid for 24 hours beforehand, I'm afraid you're just going to have to put up with it. Either that, or put them in nappies. Even the 10-year-old!
7. Why is everything so b*****y expensive?' aka The price of a good time
Whether you're a stay-at-home or working parent, nobody wants to spend the summer holidays stuck indoors. Even if you're prone to wilting in the heat, being out is far more preferable to staying in and watching the dirge daytimes telly programmes put on the box during the summer months.
But every time you set foot outside the house, you feel like you've been mugged.
On even the most basic day out, it's easy to drop a tenner or more on ice creams and drinks, but that's teeny tiny beer compared to what you'll be turned upside down and shaken for if you go to a theme park, zoo, attraction or cinema (there's always the beach, if you can cope with the traffic jams – see above).
It's easy to say 'Ta-ra' to £50-60-70 or more on a day out for a family of three kids (as I have). What seems most blood boiling is that YOU – the parent – is charged even MORE than your child to see the animals, ride on a rollercoaster or watch The Lego Movie for the sixth time – when you didn't want to go to any of these things in the first place!
SOLUTION: There are fantastic cheap – and free – days out for all the family over the summer holidays. You just need to know where to look. Click on these links for inspiration: Free activities for kids this summer and 20 UK family days out to take with your kids.
Take the pressure off and have fun!