You may have been the most disorganised person in the world before you had children. You may well have got up just five minutes before you had to leave for work. You may have lived life wildly and spontaneously, jetting off for the weekend at the drop of a hat or at least going to the corner shop whenever the fancy took you. Not any more. Planning ahead is all for the working parent. You will be amazed at how organisation becomes your middle name and how you may even make friends with spreadsheets or at the very least with post-it notes.
There are several types of planning involved in parenting:
1. Last minute planning: for instance, when the childminder rings at 7.45am to say she’s been up all night with the norovirus and you’ve got an important meeting at 10am. This is the most common type of planning and dwarfs all other forms. Often parents get stuck in last minute planning for entire years because every time they tackle one last minute planning disaster another crops up. This means they never get back to the steady course they may sometimes mention in passing during the lead-up to holidays, etc, when they foolishly imagine they may have more time to think about such matters. This is because they confuse their memory of childhood holidays with holidays as parents when the need for planning, particularly last minute planning, goes into overdrive as they try to piece together some sort of coherent childcare plan. Of course, the plan should involve a fall-back plan [generally your partner if you have one, grandparents, other relatives, friends who you return the favour for, an emergency childcare provider…] and a back-up fall-back plan [bringing your kids to work??]. This sounds much more streamlined than the desperate ring around at 8am that may be required.
2. Medium-term planning. This involves things like weekly plans. Some parents use spreadsheets and have weekly planning meetings. These plans are put together in the belief that everyone will get to where they are supposed to go, that no-one falls sick, falls off the school bench and cracks their skull open or is off school due to snow, flooding, inset days, strikes or the like, that people do not miss the school bus or decide to stay late for a school club without telling their parent and then text to ask if they can get a lift home. They also do not take into account the small stuff – the loss of school uniform items which were there the night before, the missing objects which are vital for show and tell or some school project, the announcement at 7am that a small model of the Taj Mahal is required for geography class later that morning and the likelihood of small people pooing just as you are setting foot outside the door or deciding to strip naked and pour bubble bath all over their heads. Never underestimate the small stuff.
3. Strategic planning. This includes long-distance planning such as next summer’s holiday childcare. For most parents this is probably a utopian wish list since they are much too exhausted dealing with short term planning and the constant different stages that their children are always entering to focus on the long-term stuff. On odd occasions, when least expected, however, there are chinks of light when strategic planning surges to the fore, only to be swallowed up by an inevitable last minute crisis, for instance, you plan a football holiday club for next year’s summer holidays with your child’s best friend and they go and fall out with them just a month beforehand or suddenly decide that football is the most abominable sport ever invented, engendering yet another bout of last minute emergency planning.