Holiday childcare: ask the expert

I am finding holiday childcare a bit of a problem. I have no relatives nearby and most of the mothers I know have relatives so they send their children to them at half-term etc. I have tried holiday schemes, but my daughter is very shy. I hated that kind of thing when I was young. Perhaps my experience and guilt is making her more reluctant to go?? Is there anything that could make it easier for her?

Holiday childcare for working parents is a nightmare. You are not alone in this. There is very little practical help for parents during the holidays and although there are some excellent holiday schemes, it’s all a bit hit and miss, and you can’t always judge in advance whether your child will enjoy a particular scheme, so it can be quite stressful. Whilst your daughter may be picking up on your own anxiety about holiday schemes, if you do not feel happy with her being there, then let’s look at other options.
You could try swapping childcare with a friend. I’ve seen this work really well for some families. Parents from both families split taking the time off work and look after each other’s children. This has lots of advantages – it’s free, you get to have a bit of fun with your child in the holidays without using up all your annual leave, and your child has a playmate for the holidays. Whilst this will work for short holidays, it is not realistic for the whole of the long summer holiday. So it’s important to look at other childcare.
Another option is to approach nanny agencies and look for a nanny who would cover holiday times for you. Some parents have nannies during term time, but if they work term hours, they might be looking to reduce their out-goings and be willing to let her work for you during the holidays. This would provide your daughter with one-one care and enable her to build a relationship with the nanny over time. Shorter term nannying contracts are also becoming more common, especially for university students during the holidays or teachers wanting extra money. This might be a good option for the summer holidays and you could maximise your time together over the half terms and Easter break by using these time to take annual leave to go away.
You could approach the issue from a different angle: have you talked to your employer about working flexible or compressed hours? You have a legal right now to have any request for flexible working considered seriously and compressed hours or term-time only contracts is an option that some parents – especially single working parents – find really worthwhile. If you weigh the loss of earnings against the cost of the childcare, you might be surprised at the result, especially if it enhances your quality of life by reducing the stress associated with finding holiday childcare. If you have a forward-thinking employer, you could encourage them to set up a holiday scheme for the children of employees. It could be extended to include local children too if they want to get some good PR out of it. That way you could keep an eye on your daughter and even see her at lunch time. Again, this may only be for a couple of weeks, but it would help break up the long summer holidays.
If you do feel that holiday schemes are the best option, there are ways of increasing your child’s enjoyment of them. First, see if she knows anyone who has been to the scheme you’re interested in and get them to talk to her about it. Even better would be for her to go to the scheme with a friend. Maybe the other mothers you know use relatives as a default option but might consider using a play scheme instead. You could make it a mission of yours to find another mother in a similar situation with a child for your daughter to befriend. This sounds a little calculating but if it works, you could suddenly have a lot of problems solved (your daughter would be more receptive to going to a play scheme with a friend, you have someone to swap childcare with during the shorter holidays, and if you are running late, there is someone you can phone to help you out). Your child’s teacher may know of other children in the class or the school who use play schemes or whose parents struggle with holiday childcare and may be willing to introduce you. As your child is of school age, I would include her in the decision about her school holidays – she’s likely to be less anxious about arrangements if she feels that they are (at least to some extent) within her control. If there are a number of play schemes, talk to her about the pros and cons of each – don’t include any that you are not prepared for her to go to, and then let her decide which she would prefer. You could also explain about your annual leave and that if she goes to a play scheme, it will mean that you can have a nice holiday together at another time. If you think that your daughter really enjoys the schemes but is just a little apprehensive at first, then you need to forget your experiences of them and embrace them with enthusiasm. This should help your daughter overcome any apprehension and settle in quickly.
This is a big problem for many families, but it’s only a transient one. Before you know it your daughter will most likely want to spend her holidays hanging out with her friends, so she’ll be begging you to allow her to go to whatever scheme her friends are going to. In the mean time, do what feels right for you and talk to your employer, partner and other mothers to help you make arrangements that work for your family.

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