Am I the only parent that can't believe how quickly this half term has come along?! I'm sure you've all been settling into your routines again after the lengthy summer holiday and now it's time to have that routine dashed so we can go back to wearing the occasional hat that requires us to become an entertainer, a taxi driver or a referee depending on how many you have and what ages they are. I can snigger slightly at myself here, with two of a similar age I actually fit into all three but sadly, in reverse order!
It's been a transitional few months for us; we moved to Brighton in August so the boys could settle in to the area before they started in their new schools. However, in order to do so we had to rent temporarily because our house purchase was still going through. We finally complete next week so while you are all at soft play, the trampoline centre or packing your bags to enjoy some winter sun, think of me as I'll be enjoying the pleasures of moving everything out of storage and into our new home.
Ok, lugging the crates around and manoeuvring the sofa bed upstairs is not a job I relish but I am really excited to get settled once and for all and actually I'm sure the boys will be more than happy to help on the first day of their break. Their rooms have been predetermined so no arguments expected there! I just know that with my priorities being getting us settled into the house as quickly as we can, I'm probably not going to be as much use to the boys in that week as I would like to be. I'm good at pre-empting things though; the last thing I want to feel is guilty that they've had a boring half term so here's some advice to myself that would no doubt speak for many others.
1) Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!
The boys know I'm not going to be able to take them for days out in the early part of next week so I've given them a fair amount of options for things they can do without me. I'm really lucky (well in fact I'm not because that's why we moved here) that Brighton is full of activities for the kids so I'm awaiting decisions to be made on whether it's the outdoor activity course or the Brighton & Hove F.C football in the community course instead. This will be great for helping them meet new friends outside of their schools too.
2) Put it all down on paper
Or a white board if you're particularly keen on organisation! I have learnt that being 'off the cuff' with two lads of 11 and 12 years old might work on holiday but when at home can often be the prelude to a wasted day or worse, disappointment and frustration, and guess who that gets taken out on?!
Simply list the days from top to bottom on the left hand side then list next to it what each child would like to do and obviously discuss the necessary compromises when those interests clash. When it's approached in advance it's a compromise, when it's dealt with on the actual day its war. You decide which you prefer!
3) For a quiet life, empower the kids to make choices
The problem with us telling the kids what they are doing because WE think it would be a nice enjoyable activity is that it won't stop them from moaning , so to avoid feeling like you're not appreciated or they are so ungrateful just let them decide.
Here's a little tactic for you. Why don't you put five options in front of them, all of which are things you fancy going along to do yourself, and if two of the five are chosen by the child they think that they instigated the whole thing and everyone wins.
That's good management, however, if your child is too clever for that you must fall back on compromise, for every two things you do that suits their taste they must in turn accompany you to do one thing you would like. I think we all accept that we become less important when it comes to making family decisions as the kids grow older.
4) Let them handle the budget
When you start empowering your children to create their own plans, compromise on clashes in the diary with siblings, and negotiate deals with parents so that everyone gets the chance to do what they want, you are forming a highly sophisticated business person in the making.
If you tell them that for the whole week they have £100 between them (or whatever you can afford) watch them completely blow you away with how good they are at completing the necessary changes to the plan.
This is such a good exercise for them, they do it completely without judgment as to the amount you can afford and the little entrepreneurs out there may even ask what jobs they can do in order to create a bigger budget so they can go to the cinema too!
Living in Brighton means our Family & Friends Railcard is getting a good work out; a tip for all parents out there, I always thought a railcard would be expensive but it's really not and it saves you a fair bit when the family is on their travels so I highly recommend you take a look here and start saving now and check out my top tips while you're at it.
5) Identify your support and create leverage
One of my well used tools as a single parent is to create mutually beneficial relationships with the parents of the boys' good friends so when I'm not busy I make a point of taking the opportunity to entertain a friend or two of theirs, giving their parents some time to do whatever they please. Then, when I'm stuck getting home from work early enough to get the boys after school I know I can call in the favour from them without feeling like I'm really taking the mickey when Bob has been at a friend's house three times that week!
You don't earn points for soldiering through as a parent doing everything bravely by yourself, you earn points by being resourceful and organised, in fact you don't actually earn points, you gain time and the right to feel calmer for longer.
6) Lastly, don't fall in to the Halloween trap
I'm absolutely terrible at getting the outfits sorted out for Halloween before the actual day itself so I've already asked them what they would like to dress up like and have ordered the costumes and face paints online already which for once in my life means I won't have the last minute panic I've experienced all too often.
Also don't forget, as busy as we all are, the best things we can do with the kids don't always come at a cost, they only ever truly want our time and attention, our praise and our acceptance so get the balance right between the stuff that looks good and the stuff that feels good and you're set for a cracking half term.
If anyone has any family, planning, budgeting or half term related concerns, drop me an email with your issue to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be sure to give you a little help in the right direction as your coach and friend.