Updated: Aug 3, 2018
Does you're summer holidays look like this? Nope? Me either! Do you wish it did? Yep, me too! But I bet after 10 mins of this photo was taken, total chaos ensued!
If you're a parent in the middle of the school summer holidays trying to juggle everything, while attempting to hold on to your sanity as you try to tempt,bribe or prise the iPad away from your kids hands, this post is for you!
It's no wonder that in a survey of 2,000 families found that one in four parents reports experiencing FOSH, or Fear of the Summer Holidays. With trying to balance work commitments, screaming, fighting kids, horrible weather and limited funds, the summer holidays has the potential to be hell on earth. But maybe if we set our expectations a little lower and give ourselves a break if we're not like Mary Poppins 100% of the time, we can find the strategies that work for us to survive until term time starts again.
Here are some suggestions to help.
HOW TO GET ORGANISED
Getting prepared as much in advance is key. Plan which days or weeks you are going to be away, visiting friends or family, find out when friends are available for playdates, booking in important meetings and arranging childcare, should be done as much in advance as possible which will reduce stress in the long run. If you have planned a week away in the middle or end of the holidays it will be something nice to focus on and look forward to when you're two weeks in and exhausted already!
If you are working from home, work out when you can grab some quite time to concentrate on getting work done. If you are a morning person, try getting up a couple of hours before the kids and if they are old enough they can get their own cereal, get dressed and watch cartoons, then you can spend the rest of the day doing family stuff without worrying about the mountain of work you have to catch up on. If like me and you're a night owl, I find working once everyone is in bed is the best time as it is my most creative and productive time of the day.
I also find writing out lists of things I have to do a useful way of not forgetting things during the holidays, so if I find I have a few minutes spare I can do something that crosses an item off the list rather than wasting it scrolling on social media.
Also try to schedule in some 'me time' during the holidays. Whether it's a yoga class or getting a pedicure. I know it might feel like an indulgence you don't have time for, but you're probably less likely to snap if you've had some down-time to hear yourself think again!
HOW TO JUGGLE CHILDCARE ARRANGEMENTS
It’s more likely today that both parents work, making the summer holidays feel like a relay race in which it’s all too easy to drop the baton. First ask your employer if you can work flexibly over the coming weeks – and check if you can use childcare vouchers to offset the cost of any holiday camps. (Every year I keep thinking I should set up a holiday camp business, because they are so bloomin' expensive!)
You might not be able to get time off if your work doesn't have enough staff and it's a busy period for the business, but usually with enough notice you can get the leave when you need to. They can’t unreasonably refuse to allow employees to take time off for looking after your children. (Although this backfired on me once where my request for time off in the summer holidays, requested months in advance, wasn't noted down by the owner and ended up with me getting fired!)
If you work from home, try a schedule with other home-based parents in your local area, in which you arrange playdates to take each other’s children for a few hours – enough time to do a concentrated chunk of work, or go to a meeting, and the kids love hanging out with their friends. Create a WhatsApp or Facebook group, so that you can support each other and call out for help on bad days. Even if it's just to vent frustrations that the kids are driving you crazy, it's nice to know that you're not the only one!
HOW TO RESPOND IF KIDS SAY ‘I’M BORED’
This has got to be my biggest trigger to send me into a rage that inevitably leads me to repeat the timeless phases that my parents used on me like "only boring people get bored" (Cringe!) This complaint is becoming more common because kids have become so used to being entertained by fast-paced screens that every other activity now feels slow by comparison.
When I try to give helpful suggestions of things to do that don't require an iPad, I get told they are boring, and that he doesn't want to do what I tell him to do. So one tip I found was to create a “boredom jar” with them to encourage them to come up with their own activities. Fill a glass container (a jam jar works well) with slips of folded paper with ideas on, which they have come up with themselves. These can range from reading a book, to making a den, to baking cakes to tidying their bedroom (yes I laughed out loud at the last one too! pahahahahaha!). Every time your child feels bored, encourage them to dip into the jar without looking. The rule is they have to have a go at whatever idea they pull out. (I'm crossing my fingers that he pulls out the 'tidying his bedroom' one, but I'm not that lucky!)
Make a list of free activities that you can do, from trips to the park, walks on the beach or a picnic in the woods, trips to the museum or a castle (most are free in the UK, or you can wonder the grounds for free at most castles), or a visit to the library, or foraging for berries and making jam. (You could even save your best activities on the RelocateGuru app so you can find them easily later and help others survive the holidays!)
HOW TO MAKE LONG JOURNEYS EASIER
Before going on a long trip either car or plane, we get prepared with a bag of tricks including: snacks, water (bought after security if flying), travel pillow, toy, books/comics, iPad with earphones. This is one occasion where we don't restrict iPad usage!
For long, hot, sticky journeys in a car, pack a towel in the back seat for each child. It can be used as a blanket, a mop for any spills, or on toddlers’ laps to help toys stay put and catch snacks before they get squashed in the child seat. You can also tuck one end into the window and hang it as a curtain to keep out the sun. If children get hot and sweaty, you can also moisten it with water to help keep them cool.
If the often-repeated question “are we there yet?” is driving you to the edge, help your children realise how often they are saying it by taking along a bag each of their favourite treats. This works better with things that don't melt! Each time they ask, gobble one up – and tell them they will only get whatever’s left at the end of the journey. It will make them think twice about repeating that button pushing question throughout the trip. Also create a playlist of songs everyone likes and can sing a long to. The Greatest Showman soundtrack is my fave at the moment, but get told I'm embarrassing. I don't care and I will blast out 'This is Me' even though I know I terribly out of tune! Beware that small children will want their favourite songs on repeat, which on a 13hr drive might drive you slightly crazy, so this is where the iPad and earphones really comes into it's own!
HOW TO FIND A SUMMER CAMP
For parents who work, summer camps can be a godsend (even if the majority of your wages go to pay for them!). If your child is not into traditional sports, there are lots of original and creative alternatives and they are great at increasing your child's confidence and meeting other kids with similar interests. They could be a week long residential away type camp, or just during the working day, where you drop them off in the morning and pick them up after work.
The key is to find a camp that offers an experience children would not get at school. Whether it's a Rock n' Roll camp, Pony camp, Drama camp, Dance camp or even Coding camps, there will be a camp somewhere that focuses on an interest that your child will want to delve deeper into. Join a local facebook group and ask for recommendations for the sort of things you are looking for.
Checking out a camp’s social media channels to get an idea of what goes on and whether it will be good value. Compare the cost across camps, see if healthy, fresh choices for food are included or do you have to provide a packed lunch, and how many teachers there are per child. Also, is the camp run by adults or summer interns? Where have the teachers come from? For example, with drama camps have they ever acted professionally?
LEAVE TIME TO BE SPONTANEOUS
Dump the guilt and try not to fill every waking moment with magical memories. Sometime the best memories are created when we don't try quite so hard and do things 'just because'. Whether it's a water flight in the garden just because it's hot, or going to the cinema just because you're more excited to see Incredibles 2 than your kid, or go horse riding just because you saw a groupon voucher, or staying up late just because it's the lunar eclipse, or driving 3hrs to have lunch with your brother just because he's over on a lay-over (and he's paying because it's your birthday!).
Also keep some or your favourite prosecco,gin or wine and some chocolate, ice-cream or cake hidden for emergencies! Cheers!
What are your best tips for surviving the summer holidays? I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments below!