The financial strain on single parent households is exacerbated during the school holidays with 1 in 5 single parents reportedly calling in sick to work to look after their children and 35% taking unpaid leave to provide childcare. It also highlights the social implications this financial strain can have on children, with expensive activities and school trips having to be passed up to save money.
Pretty unsurprising right? The average school child has 13 weeks of school holiday a year compared to between four to five weeks annual leave for the average full time employee, so there’s something of a discrepancy in childcare availability. Juggling childcare, time with the kids and work is hard enough when there is a team of two parents at home, so when you’re doing it alone, it can quickly turn into a massive headache.
It Takes a Village
As with so many other aspects of parenthood, surviving the school holidays as a single parent becomes a question of leaning on those that offer you a crutch. I am (very) lucky, as I have a part time job, working from home, with a flexible working policy that allows me to do a lot of my work from home early in the morning or late into the night once my kids have gone to bed. Tis has allowed me to spend the majority of the holidays in the middle of the day doing fun stuff with my kids.
I also live in a neighbourhood where there are a few other kids, and during school holidays the kids sort of go between houses and play with one another … each parent getting a chance to watch the kids. This means I can catch up on loose ends and my kids are entertained and having a fun time. Even when all the kids are at my play generally, they play well together and are occupied enough for me to do extra things like housework or food prep.
The change-up in routine isn’t exactly conducive of the most relaxing working week(s) of the year, but there’s enough support for me to muddle through and my kids get some extra family time as we travel to my mums for a few days each school holidays.
If you haven’t got a tribe of support around you (rare, I realise), I know of other parents who club together with a group of friends to split the childcare load. You each take a day off work and survive with as many kids as you can fit in your living room (and hope that the cost of breakages doesn’t rise higher than the childcare bill you’ve saved). Finding other like-minded single parents in your area can be tricky, so I make a point of being friends with married women because they “normally” are stay at home mums or if they work its part time and they can generally get a lot of the school holidays off.
My son since starting school has made friends with a great group of boys whose mums are a mixture of full-time workers, part time, stay at home and also some are married, and some are single, and we all help one another entertain our kids in the school holidays so we can get things done. We’ve been doing this since prep. It gives me a full morning to work so I don’t have to stay up late and work at least one – twice a week.
And as for cash? Who needs it? OK, I’ll admit, it can feel as if everything fun costs money, but cliché as it might sound, the best things in life really are free. If you can find some time off from work to spend with your kids, do just that. Just have some extra quality time with them. Run around in the garden. Build a castle out of the recycling bin contents. Walk in the woods and hunt for the Gruffalo. Go to the beach and make sandcastles. Google new kid friendly parks and pack a picnic and spend the morning there.
Some of the best memories my kids have and the funniest photos we have are from exploring new places, just us. It bonds us because it makes it special.
At The End Of The Day
Our kids grow up knowing we work hard for them, to create a sort of lifestyle for them and even if you can’t be there all the time physically your kids know you love them so stop with the single parent guilt and look for ways to enrich their lives with you in those moments you are together because sometime quality over quantity can be so much better in their eyes.