The summer holidays are around the corner and for those in Scotland they’re already under way. You may have wistful memories of summer as a child: a whole six weeks of freedom from homework and school rules and getting up at the crack of dawn. That picture may not be quite as rosy if you are a working parent, depending on the flexibility of your job. Many parents struggle with the fact that school holidays and the way work is constructed do not in any way match because they are built on the model of one parent not working. Some employers have recognised this dilemma, but for many parents it is down to them to come up with a solution. The problem can lead to major life decisions, such as moving to be nearer relatives, dropping out of the workplace or taking lower paid more flexible work and kissing goodbye to your career. It still tends to be women who end up making such decisions.
Our poll shows that a substantial 41% of working parents have yet to work out a childcare plan for the school holidays. Many end up with a sticking plaster solution: asking any relatives/friends who are around, coordinating diaries with a partner, if they have one, and just winging it. If the latter is true for you, Workingmums.co.uk has some suggestions.
1. Check our your local authority to find out about activities in your area and holiday schemes [this should be on their website]. Your school may also have details of holiday playschemes run by local leisure centres or your school may host some. Organisations like the Football Association run some schemes. For help with childcare for children with special needs, contact the Family and Childcare Trust.
2. Fall back on family. That means primarily your partner, if you have one, older siblings of babysitting age and any other family if they live nearby or are able to take the kids for a few days. If you can, divvy up the summer between a number of family members to spread the load.
3. If family are not available, network with friends. If you haven’t already built up a support network of other parents, particularly working parents who know what the deal is, start doing so as soon as you can, even if you don’t think you have time. It could be a life-saver. Have all their numbers on speed dial on your phone in case of emergencies. If you take a day off you can have their children over and vice versa. The more friends you can involve the better.
4. Try to negotiate some home working for you and for your partner if you have one and if your job can be done from home. That way you can be around to ferry the kids to holiday playschemes, which often end well inside normal working hours and may be age restricted, meaning that if you have more than one child you have to ferry to two separate places at two separate times- or simultaneously. Check out schemes such as Fun Fest Franchising which may have places in your area. Depending on what work you do, you may also be able to tailor your day so you have time for the kids in the afternoon before you log on again later in the day.
5. If you can afford it or if it works out less costly than childcare, you can take unpaid parental leave, although you have to give due notice so, if you have not spoken to your employer yet, it may be something to consider for the next holidays.
6. Emergency childcare may be necessary if all else fails. Organisations like My Family Care or Findababysitter.com provide emergency back-up, but it can be at a cost. More details about flexible childcare can be found here.
7. If you are off with the kids, check out local museums, parks, etc, to find out what activities they have on offer. Many will be free of charge and getting out and about can make a world of difference to their holidays and may help recharge your batteries too. If it rains and depending on the ages of your children, you could try things like t-shirt designing, making dens, changing their room around or putting on a show. Creative Sparks, a fantastic new book by Sarah Cressall, founder of The Creation Station, has a long list of tips on creative activities you can do with the kids. The activities range from making a bug hotel, storytelling and making ice balls to making a one-minute movie and each is tailored to older or younger children.