School Holidays & Dual Working Parents
School broke up for our eldest son on December 14th last year and he started back this week on Feb the 4th. This first week back has also been a short week due to a public holiday on Wednesday. Everyone has a different experience (and opinion) of the school holidays. I wanted to share my own experience of this time – which will continue to be different every year.
Before Arjun was of school age, the holidays were always something I was quietly afraid of.
We are two working parents with absolutely no family help at all.
Yes, we need to work.
My husband and I run three businesses. They do not just stop for eight weeks. These are not ‘big businesses’ that we can simply take leave from and have them still working. Our work does put food on the table. Our work is also enjoyable. We do not want to stop for this length of time. If we included all school holidays and public holidays for the year, we are looking at around four months of the year not working.
Last year was Arjun’s first school holidays, however we had our amazing Au Pair with us to assist during this time. It was a godsend and something on the cards for the future, but it was not possible this year for financial and logistical reasons. Therefore, we knew that managing seven weeks of school holidays was always going to require some lateral thinking and planning.
We feel not having family help at the best of times. While we have never had it to reply on, it does not mean we are not aware of the difference it would make to us. This time of year, is the worst for me personally (previous blog here) and then with school holidays all the emotions are exemplified even more.
I get some serious grandparent envy.
When I hear someone just casually say ‘oh my parents are having them for a week’…or even a day or a night…inside I turn into the hulk.
Insert all the green envy emojis.
It is also not all about me. I feel for the boys that they do not have this either. That focused one-on-one time outside of the school routine which is near impossible for us as parents to give. I am equally aware that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side too. Families are complicated and with help there can be strings and expectations. However, I don’t want to hide my own grief that pops up from not having this. Especially while we are trying to work as well. It is real and it is there.
We also know it is going to get even harder in the future. Currently only Arjun is at school. Sahan is still in daycare and his centre is open the entire way through (except for the stat days) from 7am-5.30pm. This has been one of our saving graces. It is very different juggling one child compared to two both in terms of time, money and energy.
With no easy solution in sight, it was of case of needing to buckle up and tackle this phase head on.
Even before the holidays started my husband and I made a pact with each other. This pact was to not indulge in the ‘if-onlys’. We talked about this at the kitchen table (of course) and made an active choice to focus on what we do have. This is not some whimsical saying. This is making that decision up front and then constantly catching ourselves and each other when we start to go down that path. It was something we started to practise last year when faced with some really big challenges. We learnt this the hard way not the easy way. Being so paralysed and stuck by the ‘if we had help, if we had more money, if if ifififififs’…….. that we were not able to take any actions. We are still learning to flex this mental muscle; but it certainly helped these holidays.
Instead we chose to focus on the opportunity we have spent nearly five years creating. Having our own businesses provides the ultimate flexibility of where and when we get to work while still being able to proritise quality time with the boys. While it does not mean it is easy - if we could have both and make it work, why not?
We decided to try doing a split shift. My husband would work the morning, and I would spend that time with Arjun and then we would swap.
This absolutely did not work! It took us less than a week to figure that out.
While I loved taking Arjun out in the morning (cue early morning swims) after lunch he often needs some more quieter activities around the house. As I was working from home, understandably, he really wanted me, not Dad. We swapped shifts, and it worked much better. I worked from 6am-12pm most days. Going straight to the office and then tagging in from Vijay from 12pm-6pm. This was manageable for the first four weeks and worked well for getting in some writing at my best time of day too.
Time is Arjun’s love language so he has had quality, undisturbed time with both of us these holidays. We made a worm farm, went on crab and bug hunts, jumped off the jetty at our favourite beach, played with slime and seen a movie together. Naturally we also got in the kitchen lots together while I was testing out recipes for my next book. On the weekends and public holidays we spent together as a family, mainly all at our local beach. Both boys are at a stage where they are becoming more independent and can really enjoy the outdoors, we have swam as much as possible. It was absolute bliss and so good for our souls. To think we get this at our back door without needing to leave is amazing.
After this first month though fatigue started to kick in and things felt quite unrelenting. Two six hour shifts (one work then one full mum-mode) followed by the chaotic bed time routine, cleaning the house (which is always like a bomb went off) before either tidying up work unfinished/not responded to in the afternoon. By then it was some time after 9pm and we are too tired for anything else other than bed. In addition, we found that as the year started to ramp up both my husband and I needed full time during working hours and we started to get into the ‘who’s work is the most important’ which is a very negative space.
To help a little we had Arjun in his school holiday program for a couple of days of the week. He enjoyed this and it opened some extra time and thinking space on these days. I have to admit, the last two weeks of holidays it was more like four days of the week for him as by this point it was the end of January and seven weeks down. We just had to swallow the financial hit and the guilt of doing this and not think about it too much. Arjun of course was completely fine and was more than happy to go. All these emotions came from us.
Our final strategy for the holidays was strategically planning one of my working mum retreats at the end. I am here as we speak. This is blog version number four. While I never publish my first draft of any writing it does speak for itself about how the tail end of the school holidays went. As someone who’s work requires high level thinking and creativity (which thus requires space) the challenge of juggling such work extends well beyond just hours put in. I have written about this before too. Quality of time, just the same as quality time with our children is very rarely talked about or factored in when talking about work for parents.
I personally seriously question the functionality and efficiently of nearly two months of school holidays off plus three other sets of holidays during the year. I lecture part-time at University so am very aware of the planning that is required for teaching and that teachers need a break. Why does this get made into a parent versus teacher debate. Putting my business hat on, this length of time does not contribute to the economic growth for many families or our country. With 70% of New Zealand’s mothers returning to work before their eldest child is five, I am not in the minority here either. How have we adapted to many new processes in the work force and yet nothing has changed in school holidays? After two weeks, Arjun said he was bored and wanted to go back to school. If that is not from the horses mouth, I don’t know what is. I like to think as parents we are very proactive with our boys. They are not at home on devices. This is a child that is at the beach, zoo, tramps, parks you name it we swim it, climb it, jump off it, run it. He missed the structure and the mental and social stimulation as well.
I would like to see the school holidays shortened. I would also like to see more support for working parents over this time. I do not have the exact answer for how to do this, though my husband often jokes I should get into politics. I have read some blogs and articles about the struggle of school holidays and been mortified at the comments on these. I would encourage all of us as a collective community not to judge others struggles so harshly. Christmas and school holidays put significant pressure including financial pressure on families. Many are in a similar boat to ourselves, with little help around them. Judgement does not serve us. Despite our own challenges I know we are still privileged enough to have opportunities to juggle this time easier than others. I do hope that in the time my children are at school we see something change and given my voice in the community I will be proactively looking for opportunities to push for this change. In the mean time, remember that when there are members of our wider community struggling this is equally our struggle too.
x Dr Julie Bhosale
P.S If you are looking for a bit of break and a night out somewhere on the horizon do check out our Mum Squad Sugar, Hormone & Exercise events! Talking all things for our wellbeing especially these big topics plus we have some bubbles, nibbles and a chance to meet other mums and build up your community. Events are in Auckland (19th Feb), Tauranga (26th Feb), New Plymouth (12th March), Wellington (26th March) and Christchurch (April 9th). Love to see you check out Event Finder for details and tickets (just $17).