Ah. The summer. Beaches, ice creams, taking it easy. This typical relaxing picture is perhaps not one that springs to mind if you are facing five weeks of childcare organisation, negotiating between warring siblings and endless tidying up. Here are some of the highlights coming up:
1. The stress-free myth of summer includes long, lazy evenings lying in the sun, whether at a cafe or in a park. The reality is exhausted children who refuse to go to bed until the sun goes down and exhausted parents who would dearly love to have been in bed several hours previously. It is not a recipe for calm. You can try blackout curtains, but that doesn’t work on the older ones who know the sun is still winking at them from behind the material and employ all sorts of devious tactics to prolong the evening, including possibly faking acute interest in the World Cup and developing incredibly complicated and drawn-out tooth cleaning routines. Never get engaged in a debate about bedtimes. You will only lose because they will spin it out till 10pm EVERY night. 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.
2. The summer holidays are a double-edged sword. On the one hand there’s the break from the daily joy of the school run. On the other hand, there’s getting through the school holidays. Organising childcare for the five weeks can break even the most organised of parents. The problem is that the whole lead-up to the holidays is packed with activity. It’s hard to plan ahead when you are just trying to get through the next few days. In fact, many parents report right up to the brink that they have not solved the school holidays childcare. Most have got a few weeks covered, but it’s those final two weeks that are the real test, particularly if you have more than one school-aged child and your local authority kindly divides all holiday activities into very specific age categories so they end up doing different things at different times in different locations. Not helpful. You have to be incredibly inventive to get round the whole cost issue too and then there are the kids themselves, many of whom hate the very idea of organised holiday activities. And sure as eggs is eggs, your work will organise something incredibly vital that you need to attend on the one day that there is no back-up childcare.
3. If you have time off to look after the kids, can you find enough stuff to do with them that doesn’t involve spending vast fortunes you don’t have? The good thing about summer is that the weather may be warmish. If you can get out to parks and open spaces it can help to prevent cabin fever and reduce the opportunity for endless sessions where you are required to act as international arbiter of justice. No amount of listening to testimony from all sides will do you any good. There are no winners for anyone who gets stuck in the middle of sibling wars. Children have long memories. Every comment you make in favour of their rival will be indelibly imprinted on their brain and they will never totally believe that deep down you are trying to be impartial or that you just want to sit down and have a quiet 15 minutes catching up on Facebook.
4. Going outdoors, while a Good Thing, brings its own dangers and faff in the form of suncream and sunhats. Locating and applying these can slow down the “smooth-running” morning routine. As the weather in the UK is unpredictable, even when it is pouring down and cold first thing temperatures could rise by 10 degrees by lunchtime. Be prepared.The weather also means children shed school uniform with abandon during the day, making a visit to the lost and found a regular event. It’s important to keep on top of it, especially if you don’t have much spare kit, or you may have to resort to desperate measures in the last week of school eg adapting the toga you created out of a sheet for Roman Day.
5. Watch out for summer term exhaustion. It’s a term which is overpacked with activities, from sports day to swimming to concerts, story-telling days, themed events, barbacues, trips, alcohol awareness talks…The kids are ready for the holidays at least a month before they arrive and you are ready for them four months before. At the end of each and every day the kids will either be catatonic [but strangely “not tired”] or dangerously hyped up and on the border of imminent breakdown [like you]. You will feel like you have said goodbye to the entire planet by the time the end of term arrives and that is even if you haven’t been cajoled into giving out various presents. If you have a child in year six you will have spent the last month building to the crescendo of hysteria that is the last day of term when everyone, including the parents, can be found in various corners of the playground sobbing.
6. Remember, once you have got through the next five to six weeks, if you have a child starting primary school there are usually around two weeks of them finishing at 11.45am and, joy of joys, Christmas is just around the corner.