It seems fundamentally unfair that children (a) get more time off than grown-ups and (b) require looking after during it. While kids are excited about the delicious promise of six weeks without any school, parents feel quite the opposite.
Working mums and dads face six weeks of struggling to be both an employee and a parent (“Hey, let’s alternate weeks off – that way our child is looked after but we spend close to no time off together”), while non-working parents – who really shouldn’t be called that – suddenly have to deal with 24/7 childcare.
In a bid to make the whole prospect less stressful, HuffPost UK reached out to parenting experts for advice. Pleasingly, the biggest takeaway – pretty consistent across everyone we spoke to – was the idea that it isn’t your job to entertain your children.
You still have a life to lead, and it can’t come to a screeching halt just because school is out.
[Read More: Ideas For Family Days Out]
Plan Your Holiday Together
Approaching the school holidays a day or two at a time is tempting – but it can also make them feel never-ending as you scrabble to make the next 48 hours go smoothly. Get things off on the right foot by planning activities together, suggests Bea Marshall, founder of Yes Parenting. “Find practical and creative ways to manage all the requests for things your children want to do,” she advises. “Perhaps a whiteboard everyone can add to, or a weekly planning meeting where you talk about all the things you want to do in the week ahead.”
Marshall suggests maintaining certain anchor points in the week – particularly if you have older children who are doing more on their own – specifying certain evenings where you’ll all cook together, for instance. And don’t forget to factor in your own needs, rather than basing everything around your kids.
It’s easy to panic and feel like you need to fill every one of your child’s waking hours with scheduled activities and lessons. That’s not necessary, says Noel Janis-Norton, author and director of Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting.
“There can be various reasons for over-scheduling, but the pressure that parents feel to keep up with other children, trying to keep kids busy so they stay off screens, and guilt at working longer hours, can all be factors,” she says.
Think about the practical implications of putting loads of activities in the diary: “Parents can often end up spending a lot of time in transit taking their children to and from endless activities, stuck in traffic and stressed, when spending that time hanging out together at home would be better for everybody,” says Janis-Norton.
Keep Some Sort Of Routine
While pegging back the non-stop clubs and relaxing the structure of term-time life should allow everyone to slow down a bit, keeping some routine in place might be useful, argues Dr Laura Markham, author of Calm Parents, Happy Kids,The Secrets of Stress-free Parenting. “Your job is to create the structure; your child’s job is to find something interesting to do,” she says.
“Boredom is good for kids. For instance: every day we get up by X time. After breakfast, we all clean up the house together. Then the kids have play time. Then it’s lunch time. After lunch we leave the house. When we come home, it’s quiet time and everyone reads or plays quietly for an hour.
“Routine gives a shape to the day and reduces power struggles, whining and complaints about boredom.”
Talk To Your Boss About Flexible Working
“The working world and education were not set up in tandem,” notes Jessica Chivers, CEO of Talent Keepers and author of Mothers Work. “[But now] a huge amount of thought needs to go into the summer holidays.”
All employers need to be open to flexible working, she says, and it isn’t solely a gendered thing. “Flexible working isn’t just a women’s issue – both parents, and even non-parents, need to be trusted by their employers to manage their time,” she says.
Chivers says she spoke to a family who, every January, sit down with a spreadsheet to work it all out: who’s taking what time off, what extended family members they’re going to try and get involved, what clubs and activities they’re booking and what it’s going to cost them for all the weeks of holiday across the year.
Get Work Done (If You Need To)
If you’re trying to do a day’s work from home and there’s bedlam, what are you going to do – miss an essential deadline or try and impose some order on the children? In the end, you need to try and balance the two.
“Juggling work and children over the summer can be a challenge,” says Gillian Crenshaw of A Baby On Board. “Don’t feel bad about occasionally sticking the TV on if you need to – your children won’t complain. There might be hiccups along the way so remember it’s not just you – I’ve taken more than one important work call while trying to muffle the background sound of my child shouting ‘Can I have a snack?’”
Ask For Help
Organising time for your children to hang out with grandparents is good for everyone. Alternatively, if you know other parents also eyeing up the holidays with dread, it can be worth teaming up with them – playdates, group trips and sleepovers spread across a few households can reduce the amount of time everyone has to take off work.
A day of putting up with your neighbours’ kids in exchange for them taking yours tomorrow is essentially a miniature society. Can one WhatsApp group change the world? Perhaps not, but it might make the holidays less exhausting.
Send Children Outside To Play
If you have easy access to outside space, the weather is not too ferocious, and your kids are an appropriate age for sending out to play, Markham recommends giving them a screen break and encouraging them to get outside.
“The more time children are outside, the healthier and happier they are,” she argues. “It may take them half an hour to figure out what to do with themselves, but once they do, they find the outdoors endlessly interesting. They won’t get bored, and they will sleep better that night.”
The idea of letting your kids out at the beginning of the day and not seeing them again until dinner used to be how things were done – in more suburban and rural areas, at any rate – but there’s a lot more anxiousness around that now. Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow and founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, argues that the issue is with parents’ fear levels, rather than kids being in increased danger.
“The first few times you send your kids outside to play – and it will be much more successful with a friend or friends – set a time limit during which they can’t come back inside, and don’t go to check on them,” she says. “Choose whatever length makes sense for you: 15 minutes, half an hour, an hour. Otherwise there’s always some excuse for the kids to run inside, or for you to run out, and pretty soon it’s a parent-child event again.”
Above All… Remember Who’s In Charge
It’s really easy to forget who is supposed to be calling the shots. Your children might be your pride and joy, but odds are you know what they need more than they do. “In some families, the parents feel guilty when they’re in charge, but they need to be,” says Janis-Norton.
“There are many things that children can make decisions about themselves, like which toy to play with, but parents have more common sense, maturity and wisdom, so need to be in charge.”