As kids returned to school this week I could feel the sense of relief in the air and it caused me to once again question how full-time working parents manage child minding in the school holidays.
If you do the maths, there’s roughly 12 weeks of school holidays a year, but most people who work only get four weeks off. So if you’re in a family in which both parents work full time, and you have children at school, you’ve got a gap of four weeks when mum and dad are at work and there’s no one home to mind the kids.
Not to mention if both parents use all their leave to look after the kids, they never get to go on a holiday together. And that’s just for families with two parents. How do single parents manage it?
So I spoke to working parents to find out how they cope. Some opt to start their own business so they can look after their kids. Others, like Kirstin Crothers, a consultant for Phoenix Trading, which sells greeting cards, gift wrap and stationery, deliberately take jobs in businesses that use a party plan model – think Avon and Tupperware – simply so they don’t have to juggle kids and holidays.
“Working from home means I can manage holidays and other child-related activities. Sure, the pay isn't as good as a salaried position, but people on a wage don't get the flexibility I have,” she says.
Crothers has tried to manage the kid/work juggling act in a variety of ways over time. Her husband also works from home, and the last time she took an out-of –home position, they could just about get the balance right during term time.
“Holidays were when the wheels fell off. I ended up swapping with other parents or dragging reluctant kids off to day camps when they'd much rather mooch about at home relaxing. My husband travels a fair bit and I was frantically juggling too many balls,” she says.
For some parents, the only option is to take the kids to work. This is what Eugenie Pepper, who runs a children’s clothing company, Plum, does on occasion.
“Today I had to do a couple of hours’ work that could not be put off so my son Tommy came with me to work. I always keep crayons and pencils at work for situations like this and he was so good and chatted with the staff. I have also looked after working friends’ kids to help them out when they have no other options and they do the same for me when I need to work and have not got care in place.”
That sounds manageable, but for many parents it’s not so easy. Cate Scolnik who runs a life coaching business called Change My Lane, says every parent she knows uses all their organisational and negotiation skills during school holidays.
“There's the negotiation between the parents, about who is in a position to take leave, and for what portion of the holidays. There's the negotiation at work, with employers, as to which staff are able to take leave during holidays. There's negotiation with family about pitching in to help – if you have family members able to help you – and you have to negotiate with children and child care providers,” she says.
Not to mention finding holiday programs kids want to go to, getting the paperwork right so they can actually attend, and working out whether programs have child care rebates. Then you have to organise drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as different working hours during school holidays, to fit in with the vacation care programs.
Says Scolnik: “My secret is to start planning as early as possible. I have holidays mapped out in my calendar a year ahead. I research programs, and note their enrolment dates. I make sure I book into the programs as early as possible, to ensure I have a place. I follow up with my vacation care applications, and get confirmation of places in writing. I talk to my husband about the upcoming holidays, and sound him out about taking leave – hey, it's worth a try.”
It sounds so different from my own childhood. It seems in one generation we’ve gone from the bulk of families having a stay-at-home mum, to every adult in the family needing to work.
Honestly, I do not know how I would do it, and trying to balance a family and work is one of the reasons I don’t have kids.
So I would be interested to hear from other families. Are there any secrets to ‘having it all’? Please share your comments at the bottom of this post.