Officially summer has been here for a while, but the weather hasn't quite cottoned on. If the traditional image of summer is one of relaxation and strawberries and cream, then think again. Summer can present a number of challenges for parents of school-aged children, particularly if they are working:
1. Summer holiday childcare: not many parents have five to six weeks to spare to take the summer off with their kids even if they split days off with a partner and end up conducting most of their relationship via text message. They will therefore have to rely on family and friends [with all the return favours and guilt that might involve] or a [hopefully] subsidised holiday play scheme - subject to availability - that their children will either love or hate by the end of the first day and refuse point blank to be dragged away from or back to on day two. If you have children who are more likely to fall into the latter camp, the best bet is to try and get a friend to join them on the scheme if this is at all possible. If you have more than one child and the age difference means they can't take part in the same scheme - or they would rather eat sand than be in a scheme with their brother/sister - then try and find a scheme - any scheme - which is on the way to the first scheme. You don't want to be doing a one-hour round trip first thing in the morning. Remember, the art of being a working parent is to never go from A to B without thinking of a way to do C, D, E and F en route.
Check your local authority website for summer playschemes, talk to friends, talk to the schools [they often know what's available]...Some people plot summer holiday childcare years in advance, but don't feel bad if you've left it till the last minute because you are too busy tackling all the things below. Surveys show you are probably in the majority. Bear in mind that holiday childcare can be the straw that breaks the camel's back. If you can crack this, you should at the very least get a gold-embossed achievement certificate and a pay rise for your incredible organisational skills. Instead, someone in the office will probably make some supposedly wry comment about you being five minutes late in on Tuesday because you had to do a one-hour round trip to two different holiday playschemes before you set off for work.
2. Summer term over-activity: as soon as the summer looms, schools go into overdrive. There are school trips, swimming, sports days, themed events, "fun" runs and, for the older child, work experience. On many occasions during the summer term you will feel as if you are almost going on summer holidays every day as whole bag-loads of extras are required. The secret to reduced stress is minimalism. If they want everyone to dress up as a book character for the fun run, keep it small. A moustache here and a silly hat there. A green face or fangs takes very little time, but can be highly effective and much less stressful than, say, a Roman centurion costume. Remember to always check bags for advance warning of any themed, etc, events. Usually the advance warning is not that advanced and tends to be the day before, but it's better than being told at 8.45am on the way to school that everyone is dressing up as Harry Potter today and having to create some kind of costume out of the assorted items buried at the bottom of your bag for emergencies.
3. Exams: the blight of the summer term. Even if you're already in the recovery period there is still the overhanging cloud of the results waiting down the line. For secondary school students the next month is often consumed with assessments and the like which are cruelly combined with an upswing in the weather. Practice stress-relieving exercises together. Do yoga, listen to whale music, bore them to tears with tales of your own exam stress. They - and you - will get through it and it will be the summer holidays soon.
4. Remember sun cream. Just when you thought things were getting easier and you could get out the door quicker on the school run due to lack of coats, gloves, etc come the reminders about skin cancer and the need to apply sun cream at the start of the day. Remember to apply it in advance and not during the school run. Putting sun cream on moving, highly excitable small people is much harder than doing it at home. For extra ease, try applying it just before they wake up.
5. Staying up late and getting up early: this is the double whammy of the summer months. The evenings seem to go on and on and no-one ever wants to go to bed. And then the sun - and children - are up at the crack of dawn. By the end of the week everyone is slightly frazzled and on edge, but still refusing to go to bed. Try whatever it takes to make it seem more like night, even if the sun is still shining, be that painting the windows black or playing owl sounds on the ipod. Never get engaged in a debate about bedtime. You will only lose because they will spin it out till 10pm EVERY night by referring to some obscure friend who stays up till midnight and is a genius. Some parents have been known to check the summer sun patterns in desperation as they seek when it will get dark earlier. Build your stamina. The winter will take a while to arrive - even if the Christmas ads will start appearing as soon as the summer holidays are over.