Working parents– how to cope with school holidays

With Easter fast approaching, nothing highlights the dilemma facing working mums and dads better than the school holidays. You only get four or maybe five weeks off, but the kids get 13, and if your children go to different schools this could increase if their holidays don’t match up.

Your options are limited. Even if you split the available holiday time, with you and your partner taking a few weeks off each alone and then a family holiday together, you will still have shortfall of probably four weeks. To cover this you’ll have to rely on friends and family to cover the extra weeks. Alternatively fork out hundreds, if not thousands, to pay for childcare or activity weeks or take unpaid leave. If you are lucky your employer may let you work from home a couple of days a week during the holidays.

It is not easy. Mandy Howarth, owner of Howarth HR, and a working mum says: “This is a problem companies struggle with all the time. They want to be as flexible as they can but it just depends on the industry. If you work in retail then Christmas can be your busiest time, so taking two weeks holiday may not be a viable option.

“Anyone setting up a new business or looking at their practices needs to make sure their policies are agile enough to accommodate the changing needs of their employees.”

Companies are doing what they can. Lynda Campbell, regional director of British Gas in Wales says: “At British Gas we support working parents and have won awards for our approach to flexible working and maternity leave. We also provide emergency support for our people if they need help with childcare.”

Saskia Dornan works for Virgin and is a mum who’s benefiting from her company’s flexible working practices. The head of internal communications has two children and is able to juggle holidays without having to spend a fortune on childcare. “I am lucky to have two sets of parents living nearby who have always helped out, especially when my girls were little. But now my employer offers unlimited annual leave, has very flexible working policies and actively encourages us to work from home. I often start at 7.30am and work till 2.30pm so I can pick the kids up from school. We are treated like adults at work – the bosses say you know what you have to do, how you do it is up to you. It has made us all more efficient. During the holidays either my husband or I work from home or I do flexible working and the children go to a holiday club.”

So what can you do to bridge the childcare gap without breaking the bank?

  • Ask if you can flexiwork – for example start at seven and finish at one, and then make up the missing hours over the period before and after the holidays. This will reduce the time you need to rely on someone else each day.
  • Work from home. Many people can effectively work with a laptop and a phone from their kitchen table. But you need to be disciplined, especially with young children, to make sure you actually get the work done.
  • Share childcare with other working parents. Develop a rota – like a car share – with each one of you having the others’ children while they work and vice versa. Get a big enough group and you could arrange it so you only have them once a week or even a fortnight.
  • If there are a number of mums in your workplace, especially with young children, ask if it’s possible to organise a temporary crèche in one of the offices. The costs could be shared by both the company an anyone using it.
  • Lastly, ask a parent or other family member to look after the children. It’s the obvious short-term solution but remember to choose you moments carefully and always remember to set some ground rules.
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