Surviving the school holidays

Arranging care for kids during term time is complex, but it gets extraordinarily hard during school holidays. The high cost of care services, burning up annual leave, and care programmes starting and finishing at inconvenient times are stresses many parents know well.

Many try to take some annual leave at the same time as school holidays, but the only people who get enough leave to cover the whole two or three weeks are school teachers (and they probably need those breaks!). So there’s a solution to this challenge – we could all become teachers! But that’s pretty unlikely, so here are a few other suggestions – they might not work at your place because every family is different, with different networks and resources to draw upon. However, they might get your own problem-solving processes going.

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Work ‘win-win’ deals with other families and colleagues

One problem with needing care is that you feel bad asking for favours. But there is no need to feel bad proposing a deal where you offer to care for their kids too. A few possible scenarios could be – “We’ve both got school-aged kids and we’re both working. How about I take a week of leave and look after all the kids one week and you take leave for the other week?” Or, “You start later than me – how about you drop your kids off at my place in the morning and my kids could go to yours in the afternoon?”

Care programmes and holiday clubs

If you have multiple children, the cost can even exceed what you are earning during the same period. At that point, the economics look pretty sour – you might as well be taking leave without pay. But for many people, that is not an option.

If you decide to use these programmes, back yourself on that choice – “I have made this decision because it’s the best decision. It might be soaking up all the money I am earning at the moment, but it means I can keep this job and keep earning through the rest of the year.” You could pay all that money and resent it, or you could pay all that money and congratulate yourself that you are purchasing something great for your kids. I know, I know, you are only doing a trick in your head, but it might make you feel a little happier about it.

Get in touch with extended family and friends

Many parents get their older children, young relatives and friends’ children to care for their kids – and then spend a lot of time worrying if these junior caregivers are really up to the task. Here’s a suggestion – before the holidays, pay for them to do a babysitting course (preferably one that also teaches first aid). You will now get the services of a trained caregiver and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do it at a lower rate since you helped them get a skill.

It can be a challenge if you don’t have relatives living nearby to assist with care. Over the holidays, a bus ticket can solve that problem. It’s not quite as good as taking them to Disneyland, but a week or two with grandparents or a relative could be great. Most families do this from time to time. You are not being neglectful – it’s actually what families do and it’s great for kids to get to know their relations. As long as your relatives are not too creepy or weird, your kids will be just fine.

Make plans and back-up plans

Make plans and then, if you really want to reduce your stress and anxiety, make back-up plans. Many working parents spend a lot of their day worrying about the ‘what ifs’ – “What if my child gets sick at school?”, “What if the caregiver is delayed, or gets sick herself?”, “What if there is a crisis at work and I am required to stay later than planned?” That worry can burn up a lot of emotional energy even if those things never happen, so it is a problem that deserves solving. A great motto for family life is, “The time to deal with a problem is when it is not a problem.”

So my best advice is to work out a ‘Plan B’ ahead of time – a back-up arrangement that can be activated when needed. Even if you never call on your Plan B person, you can be much more relaxed, and your kids will be secure too, knowing that there is always a place for them to go. Your kids should always know that if they have some emergency at school or get unwell, there is someone they know and trust that they can call.

Ideas to try from fellow parents

  • We can have just as much fun on a budget of $10 or $100 a day. It’s what you do with your time that counts.
  • We make sure our boy knows that having fun as a family is not about spending money.
  • We play board games, have device-free days or weekends, and we often camp out in the lounge, watching a movie in our onesies.
  • Sometimes you just have to forget about all the chores and just do something fun with the kids.
  • Make the most of your day off together. Ask the kids to choose the activity and let them plan the day.
  • We love going to the park or taking a walk along the beach collecting shells.
  • Sing and dance together. Do handstands and be silly. They don’t want you to spend money, they just want your time.
  • We go camping together. The kids love milo and camp fires.
  • We enjoy fishing together and taking trips to the beach.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.

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About Author

John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

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