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Navigating the working parent, school holiday conundrum

There is no escaping it, the school holidays are definitely on the horizon and that horizon is moving rapidly! I distinctly remember the excitement I felt as a child about 6 weeks of freedom.  My mum worked at my school so had the same time off as us and I have fond memories of doing a lot each summer; visiting family and friends, days out and our annual two-week holiday.

Now that I am a working mum looking at the summer holidays my perspective is somewhat altered.  If I am honest, a bit of me still feels excited, but my excitement is also tinged with worry.  How do I do what I need to do work-wise and give my children the best summer holidays?

I recognise that there is no magic answer or perfect solution.  I also recognise that if I take off my own rose-tinted glasses, my memories of the summer holidays are not entirely accurate.  We did go to day camps and we certainly didn’t go out every day on some Famous Five style adventure, so I do know my children won’t be missing out because I am working for some of the summer.

For me, a manageable (and enjoyable) summer is about making a series of choices that both my family and I are happy with and recognising it is for a short term period.  I thought it might be useful to share what has worked for me so far:

  • Make sure we do get a two-week holiday as a family. We all benefit from spending proper time together.  We have tried 1-week holidays in the past but my husband and I both find it hard to turn off from work in that time (and once you’ve packed for a holiday with kids, two weeks really is the minimum needed to justify the stress of packing).
  • Agree with my husband who can take additional time off in the summer. I don’t carry all the weight of summer childcare on my shoulders, it is a shared responsibility.  As much as we gain from time together as a whole family, it is also good to have time as one parent with our girls doing things our own way.
  • Work out what I am comfortable with in terms of my children and external childcare. Personally, I don’t want my children to spend all of the summer holidays in school holiday clubs (note – this is my choice, this varies by family and I make no judgement on people who make different choices).   However, they do enjoy some and I have found a mix that they can attend.  I also have a babysitter that I trust who can come to our house for days in the holidays.
  • I have other local friends who work, are in the same position as me and so we help each other. We can often plan to have different days off and do a childcare swap.
  • Where possible, I plan holiday times in conversation with my team at work or with people who can provide cover for me. Ideally, if we can be off work at different times then we can truly handle work for each other.
  • I am upfront with clients about the school holidays and my availability, focusing on what I can do first before I talking about what I can’t. In my experience, people understand and it often suits them as well to bring work forward or defer until afterward.
  • If I need to do conference calls in the holidays, recognise that some extra television isn’t going to harm anyone! Personally, I prefer to be honest with those I have the call with and explain I may get interrupted.  Again, I have never had a negative response to this.

I know I am lucky enough to work in a business where we are all working parents and it is understood that we need flexibility.  I am also lucky that our clients at How Do You Do It are also forward-thinking organisations who absolutely understand the juggle the summer holidays present.  As we increasingly demand flexible working cultures in the businesses we work in, regardless of being parents or not, my hope is that more organisations put measures in place to support working parents during this period.

Enjoy the summer and fingers crossed for good weather!

Clair Hodgson – EMEA Director

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