The heaven and hell of children on summer holidays

Summer holidays are not all sunshine.
Summer holidays are not all sunshine.  Photo: Shutterstock

With some school breaking up for school holidays as early as December 1 last year and not returning until the end of January, that's up to nine weeks of summer for parents to navigate. How is it that society has made it so that work schedules are so radically different from school schedules?

It's an absolute minefield of stress for people just trying to get through and trying to ensure their kids are adequately supervised and we don't have those two month summer camps they have in the US.

That said, it's not all bad. The holidays are also an opportunity to spend time with our kids and we learn to put up with each other in different ways to when school is in session and tight schedules must be adhered to.

In many ways it's an exercise in increased tolerance, acceptance of our imperfections and making memories that will last a lifetime.

It's both heaven and a special kind of hell. Here's why:

Heaven

Regular sleep-ins

Okay for those with no younger kids in the mix, this is for you. If you're taking a little time off from work, have shared care arrangements, or you simply stick them in front of a movie, when else is the perfect time to catch up on some shut-eye? Do it.

No drops offs, packed lunches, uniform or notes

There is something to be said for being free of the necessary jobs of the school term. That last minute horror of not having enough bread for sandwiches, not having to iron school shirts, or digging out those scrunched up notes they never give to you themselves.

And all that rotten fruit found weeks later at the bottom of school bags? None of that either, unless they weren't cleaned out last year...

Sun, surf, sand

If it's within budget, take off for a few days at the beach. Search rock pools for creatures, climb rocks, do ocean walks and breath in that sea air. Oh and walking on sand is the cheapest pedicure there is - fall in love with your once-crusty, now smooth summer feet.

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Sibling bonding moments

Even if it feels like they're at each others' throats most of the time, there will be some lovely moments.

Like when they gang up on you to raid the Zooper Doopers and you're too exhausted to resist and they look at each other in victory and high-five each other. Those moments.

Memories

You know that feeling when you just know a memory is being made? Well prepare for that to be eviscerated when it turns out years later that they only remember the dropped ice cream rather than that stunning coastal walk you spent two days planning. But seriously, summers are what lifelong memories are made of.

Hell

Heinously early mornings

Some have children who wake up at the crack of sparrows, made worse by the sun rising before 6am. That makes for a very long day if you have both older and younger kids.

Too much company... or too little

I'm not sure anyone is designed to spend 24/7 with other humans so endless weeks with children can get really wearing. And then there are those who crave the company of their children as they stay with an ex-partner. 

Cost

Movies, eating out, increased demands at the shops, family outings, petrol... and that's not including if you actually go away. There ways to be frugal with the kids on holidays by packing food and drinks, but the school holidays are expensive, especially if you need to put them in vacation care and sports camps just so you can work. 

Sibling conflict

School can be a great way for your kids to spend time apart. Then bam, all of a sudden they're together in the same house, even sleeping in the same room and the tension starts to build. Disagreements over game rules, petty arguments, whining and dobbing. Yep, they're all features of the school holidays in most families. 

Juggling work

If both parents work outside the home or have erratic work schedules, you have a recipe for extreme stress. It's a plain fact that most parents use up the bulk of their leave in the summer holidays and solo parents (some of whom don't have support from an ex-partner) can find it even harder to navigate.

Loss of routine

Some kids need routine like they need air; some adults too. The long summer holidays can be too unstructured and each day too unpredictable, which can lead to some challenging behaviour issues.

Screen time increase

It's tempting to pop them on screens and easy to sink into a routine of allowing it too often. Do what you have to do to get through, but the habit will be difficult to break once school goes back. Perhaps in the last few weeks of the holidays, start to place some limits on screen time if you don't already.

So there you have it. You might relate to some of these, none, or all of them. The summer school holidays will always be a unique time for us as parents, and also for our children.

All we can do is try to make the best of this time, for the years are certainly short, even when we have all those weeks to fill.