School's out, work's in: How do parents cope?

March 30, 2017

Even the most organised of working parents can struggle during school holidays. We explore a few strategies for saving your sanity.

Managing family and work commitments is often a tenuous juggling act; and one that needs constant fine-tuning.

Just when you thought you had the routine of the new school year all sorted you spot the Easter eggs. School holidays have come around again, along with yet another layer of complexity to that hectic work-life schedule.

Jason Wells, a 44-year-old father of two boys, spends his days as an IT consultant for Data#3 and the rest of his time sharing household and childcare duties with his wife, Caroline.

His work, though flexible, is unpredictable – anything from working from home for a few days to travelling interstate overnight. It means taking a pragmatic approach to what can be a hectic environment.

“We pretty much split it down the middle,” he says. “If I’m home, I do the kids. Caroline works three days a week, so she does the rest.”

Both parents pitch in

Rebecca Grainger, life coach and founder of the Mama Hub on Facebook, states that being willing and able to divvy up family arrangements is important for parents’ sanity.

“Sharing the load – getting your partner involved in school runs and household chores – is important,” Grainger says. “For both parents, anxiety levels are increased with the change in routine, so remaining calm amongst the chaos can help centre both parties.”

Being organised and communicating clearly is what works for the Wells family. The government-run, vacation-care program offers both help during this tricky time and a welcome excursion for the kids.
“We work out with the mums of our sons’ friends which programs they want to do too so they get to be with their friends,” says Jason.

“It’s a first in, best-dressed policy though, and there’s massive demand. We have an email app that sends our application out at 6.55am on the opening day – by 9am it’s all booked up.”

Take time out for yourself

Running parallel lives in the school holidays is an extra stress in itself. Grainger advocates taking time out during the holidays.

“We all get frustrated with partners, our children, extended family there to help,” she says. “So try to go somewhere quiet and connect inwards at some point in the day. The more we can create space in our heads, the more proactive we can be in the way we react, the better the experience can be.”

Talking, organising and managing your time and your family’s time is the best antidote to stress at this time of year. Grainger recommends using experiences to reward kids, instead of spoiling them with toys, treats or screen time. “Having an adventure together as a family is a better way to raise engaged children and get through the holiday season,” she says.  

Ideas for employers

As for employers? Be flexible. Working parents are less likely to get into office politics and can be a business’s most effective workers. Retaining staff is far more cost effective than hiring and training new people.

“You’re also retaining your investment, and their external and internal relationships,” Grainger says. “If you have a flexible workforce, you show opportunity for other parents and thus become an employer of choice, leading to high-performing staff looking to join your business.”

With a little planning and a lot of patience, this time of year can be a fun break from the day-to-day routine.

Failing that, lock yourself in the bathroom with the kids’ Easter-egg haul… in the name of stress relief.

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