Juggling the School Holidays
Ah April. A pressure point in the year. I mean, every month presents its challenges but April is always one I watch out for as it is the school holidays, a public holiday and normally at the tail end of a book which means work I have been putting off the previous few months working on the manuscript is all sitting there overflowing at the seams, while I am still in the final wrap up stages its completion (a book is never truly done until it is OFF TO THE PRINTERS).
We won’t talk about April of 2020 though!
I have been a ‘working mum’ now for the best part of a decade – a whole decade!! Seems unfathomable but I have. I will tell you the collective time I have had off for all three boys because you could count the weeks on one hand and this has simply been my journey. It is not a badge of honor just a very different path. Hopefully one day it will not be seen as so different but for now all I hope to do is shed some light on a few things I have learnt along the way of juggling a huge workload, three boys and everything in between!
Anything outside of the normal flow of family life seems to tip the balance and school holidays do this for me. It is just that one extra ball to juggle. The older boys go to a holiday programme as I cannot afford to take two weeks off both financially nor in time. Business never stops. I have flexibility with my time which is everything, but I am certainly not at a stage I can just put the brakes on for this period. Given that there are on average about 16 weeks of school holidays a year (yes 4 months worth) I seriously question this for working parents and a system which seems outdated to modern life. Will leave much discussion on that topic for another time though.
As the older boys go to a country school, the holiday programme is run at a more central school as they do not get the numbers. This unfortunately means we have a two hour trip each day in the peak of traffic to drop them off and pick them up which really puts a lot of pressure on. We have no family help during this time which is hard for the logistical reasons as well as the emotional reasons. Like all things in parenting I know it will not be forever but it is just what I am dealing with right now.
The following is a short, succinite list of some of the helpful tools I use at this time to help keep my own wellbeing in check and the family life machine well oiled.
- Acknowledge the inner dialogue (aka mum guilt) - despite all these years of walking the working mum path I still feel that old voice and guilt that I shouldn't be working. I feel this more so in school holidays. Often people just assume too that I am not working and act surprised that I am. I have to constantly override this socio-cultural norm and the first step I have to take is to mentally acknowledge that it is there and process that this is what is best for our family, not that it should be another way.
- Reduce time in trigger places – In keeping with this earlier point I reduce my time in what I have come to recognise as my trigger places for emotions that come up related to working in the holidays and not having family help. Malls especially are a big trigger as there are lots of grandparents with school age children there which just cuts right through so I find it best to avoid. I have also made some personal decisions around Mother’s Day this year which I will share in due course. In addition social media can also present triggering images of what others do on school holidays or wording around their children being with grandparents so I keep my time to a minimum on there which is easier said than done with an online business.
- Reframe my to-do list - It is very easy for me to get stuck in the “I have hardly done anything” train of thought. Or the “I should be doing so much more”. I cannot stop these thoughts but I can catch them and reframe them, auditing what I expected of myself and trying to acknowledge what I have done in the day.
- Plan things to look forward to especially some rest and recovery – this is just essential. I am tired of the expectation that women especially work full time both in and out of the home with absolutely no break or recharge at all. I intentionally planned my next retreat for just after this period so I could hang on to it and know that some space and rest was coming. I have also planned a girls night (in two months) which I think might be my first in a very long time (not going to say how many years!).
- Meal planning and bulk cooking – I talk a lot about this in my forthcoming book along with recipe ideas. It is not something I will enjoying doing at the time but am always grateful when I do. This week I prepared a massive lasagna in advance as well as some home baking for the boys lunches.
- Listen to music – as an A+ personality I struggle to ‘do nothing’ and that drive to make the most of every second of every day is both a blessing and a curse for me. In the long car trips to and from the holiday programme (2 hours) I just listen to music and the older boys played on their iPads. I do not need to tell you guys that it is impossible to talk for two hours and not have fights in the back seat which drains my mental energy faster than I can drain a cup of coffee. It may not be classified as perfect parenting (show me perfect!) but it worked for all of us. It is an intentional choice as well to not listening to a podcast or audio book like I normally would but just enjoy music, let my brain either prepare for the work day ahead in the morning or download and gear up for the ‘mum-shift’ ahead in the evening.
- Have a good book to read – I devour books, especially thrillers. It helps keeps me of social media and even if it is one page before I fall asleep it just gives me that little thing to look forward to and again it is also good for my brain. I have finished two books in the last week and just picked up a new one today. If you are a fellow book lover I am going to be setting up in person book club meetings once a month so watch this space.
- Paid help – no family support, 3 children and 2 businesses means help needs to come from somewhere. It does not make sense on paper most of the time financially but after a decade paying for childcare now (decade!!) I just cannot dwell on that and instead see this as part of investing in ourselves, managing stress and investing in the family too. We have an amazing nanny at the moment who has been a huge help with week especially with Ray.
These are just some quick fire strategies that I am using right now. This journey of motherhood is ever evolving. There is something new to learn everyday and that has not changed since my first son was placed in my arms! I could write so much more on the things I have learnt juggling a career which requires high-level thinking and a full home life but hopefully this will give you some ideas to try yourself!