The summer holidays stretch out, seemingly forever, like a long, sun-lit footpath. They may herald the endless, golden summers of childhood, past or present but for parents of school-age kids, they can easily become an endurance course of daily pressures.
It’s early August and, across the country, an annual ritual is taking place. Days have been crossed out on kitchen calendars, past favours counted up and the number of ‘sleeps’ counted down. There are few weeks in the year that can generate as much excitement – and trepidation – as those upon us.
Many of us think of our own childhood summer holidays as sun-kissed, worry-free and filled with endless possibilities. Perhaps the truth wasn’t always like that – we also like to think all our Christmases were adorned with snow – but for most, our long summer holidays tended to be a mostly magical time that still hold a special place in our memories.
Ask a child about their summer holidays this year and the answer is likely to be even more vociferous. They’re anticipating six weeks of ‘freedom’ from teachers, homework and ‘school nights’. With so many electronic temptations, they even have less to fear from a summer of terrible weather than the generations before them. But even the most gaming-addicted kids may admit it’s difficult to beat the allure of balmy evenings in the park, amongst friends, under a setting sun.
And yet, this magic tends to fade when we approach the early years of parenthood. As the school year ends, working parents realise they have an ocean of time ahead of them that will demand their involvement. Days are taken off, schedules are stretched and, wherever possible, remote working is requested. Deals are struck with friends and neighbours: “I’ll watch them on that day if you can do the week after” and grandparents acquire levels of popularity they may not have for the rest of the year. Of course, not everyone has the option to work from home but even if you do, trying to participate in an important meeting from home, sharing a house with bored kids, isn’t always ideal.
With so many weeks to fill and with so much reliance upon factors beyond your control, it’s almost impossible to organise the whole stretch in one go. Even those lucky enough to have lots of help will still mostly operate from week to week. It’s important to put this on record because it can be easy for any parent to feel as if they’re not handling all these demands as well as everyone else – and they shouldn’t. Most who’ve ‘been there’ will readily admit that they often struggled with the logistics during school holidays. It’s perfectly normal to say so.
Considerate employers, helpful neighbours, flexible routines are all hugely helpful but you’ll still never be able to be in more than one place at once. It’s an awesome task that almost always seems to just about work out in the end. And when it does, you should congratulate yourself for achieving the seemingly impossible. Again.
Of course, it’s not just about time. Inevitably, money is also a factor. Summer grocery bills can quickly reflect the fact that those five school meals a week (per child) have mostly been replaced by ‘something from the fridge’. At times like this, you can really appreciate just how efficient school meals can be, compared to the local shop – or, worse, a fast-food outlet – five times a week. If yours happens to be the house where groups of friends congregate, your cupboards can be cleared even more quickly.
Beyond food, there’s the cost of entertainment. Days out, events, even a trip to the cinema are all expenses that arise from the abundance of time to be filled. This year especially, the school holidays are likely to add yet more pressure onto already-stretched household budgets.
There are ways to offset the impact of school holidays on your time and money. Many schools offer holiday clubs of some description and a growing number of towns have their own Youth Zone, offering subsidised activities, often for age 8 or above, in a safe, supervised environment.
Even if time and money aren’t an issue, there’s also the worry that, for some, the whole holiday can become little more than a six-week gaming stretch in a room with closed curtains. School is about far more than just learning; it imposes a healthy structure on young lives. When school’s out, it can be helpful to look for a similar level of structure elsewhere.
Check what’s available in your area. Even one day a week of organised supervision removes 20 per cent of your availability problem, guarantees the expense for a fifth of the time and removes your worries about time spent unhealthily for one day in five. We’d all love to think of summer holidays as being filled with mythical Enid Blyton-style adventure but we live in a different world to that of the ‘Famous Five’, over half a century ago – and it was probably an unobtainable fantasy for most, even then.
As with almost every other aspect of being a parent, navigating the summer holidays is, more than anything else, simply about doing the best you can. It might not always seem that simple but when you’re the grandparent and your kids are themselves facing those same age-old pressures, you’ll remember that even a little help and encouragement could make a world of difference.
Check your local schools’ websites for details of summer holiday clubs and activities. To find your nearest Youth Zone, check online. A good place to start iswww.onsideyouthzones.org