Juggling work and childcare in the summer holidays (and taming the guilt)
The summer holidays have officially started and, with three boys aged between 3 and 8, this is the first summer where I’ve genuinely looked forward to the kids breaking up.
I’m basking in the delight of not having to contend with suffocating deadlines and demanding clients, let alone having to deal with the impossible work/parenting juggle, and the military precision planning that’s required for organising holiday childcare (the kind of thing that makes most Mums want to pull their own hair out).
I started my career in IT recruitment with a large corporation, before starting my first business (in the same industry) in 2008. Since having my first child in 2010, I’ve juggled running a business with bringing up babies (not for the faint hearted), and I always surmised this was the ideal set up - working for myself, not having to answer to anyone, choosing my own hours, having the flexibility to work around school holidays and kids illnesses. However, it was never as simple as just ‘closing up shop’ when the kids broke up. The industry I worked in was extremely reactive (not to mention competitive) so when business came in, I had to drop everything to deliver on it. For a small outfit like the agency I owned (compared to the big guns) I didn’t have the luxury of declining work, and failing to deliver was not an option as I couldn’t risk losing lucrative clients, and having to start over finding new business once term started again. The pressure was real.
Instead of looking forward to the school holidays, I began to dread them, and I felt a huge amount of stress around having to arrange holiday childcare - it was just another laborious task on my ever growing list of things to tackle. Now I’ve taken a step back from my business (after 15 years in the industry) and set out on my blogging journey, I can for the first time genuinely carry out my vocation around my family. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do this (although I still work bloody hard and have to be super organised), but it’s made me realise how sodding difficult it was arranging holiday childcare, and coping with the guilt that accompanied it in the early days.
So what do most working mums do in the school holidays?
Many of the mums I know either work for organisation's or run their own businesses, and most have a pretty hard time juggling it all in the holidays (I imagine wine sales in leading supermarkets sky rocket around this time). For most, it involves sitting down with a calendar or spreadsheet (and a pencil - there’s usually a lot of rubbing out) many weeks before the start of the holidays, and tackling the mammoth task that is scheduling 6 weeks worth of childcare. Joy of fucking joys.
Some are luckier than others and have supportive parents close by who are happy to pick up the slack and look after their grandchildren. Some enlist the help of very generous neighbours or good friends who they can occasionally rely on to ease the burden, although this is more sporadic. Some mums and their husbands/partners use their annual leave to cover separate chunks of the holidays (i.e. mum takes the first half of the hols, dad takes the second). Some take unpaid leave. For the mums like me who work for themselves or work from home, it’s often just a case of winging it - fitting in work when and where we can, getting up early, or dedicating evenings to catching up, once the kids are tucked up and sound asleep.
I swear, anyone who's had to organise summer holiday childcare is probably more than qualified to tackle Brexit negotiations
(if you need something doing - ask a mum, she'll boss that shit!)
Other options of help include summer au-pairs, nannies, childminders, and the most popular choice - holiday clubs. It can be an expensive do, especially if you have multiple children like me. For most families it’s a case of weighing up whether the cost of losing business or not working, is greater than the cost of childcare. For some, myself included, it’s also considering other (non-financial) costs of dropping the ball with your business.
Taming the guilt
It’s a thing - Summer Holiday Working Mum Guilt (SHWMG). We’ve brought these wonderful little beings into the world and now we feel like we’re farming them out. What’s a mum to do? (Farm them out). Historically I’ve relied on holiday clubs, and I’ve been lucky that they do actually enjoy it - they may have the occasional moan about going but generally they love it when they get there. The arts and crafts, the activities, the sports, the treats in the lunch box... and there are usually a few familiar faces from school too.
In the early days I felt the raw heartache of SHWMG. I’d always wanted children and I’d dreamed of summer holidays spent camping, baking, playing at the seaside, or enjoying duvet days with a disney film. Now I had to work when it was my babies downtime, and it felt so wrong - surely I should be at home with them every day? Truth is, the reality is far different from the idealistic dreams, and actually being together 24/7 wouldn’t have been enjoyable or healthy for any of us!
So I don’t do the whole mum guilt thing anymore, mainly because I’ve learned that trying to be some sort of idealistic, picture perfect mum isn't real, and pretending to be something (or someone) I’m not doesn’t make me happy. It makes me feel shit and inadequate, and life's too short for that shnizz. So I’m happy to admit that actually, I like working! It’s imperative to my overall wellbeing to feel like ME and to do things for myself - I'm my own person (as well as just Mum), I have aspirations, and I count too!
When I relied on holiday clubs in order to keep my previous business running, I simply had to remind myself that I was doing it for the family. Now I’m blogging, my commitments are way less intense, but then my reasons for doing it are completely different (although my goals and achievements are just as significant and just as valid). Spending time carving out my new business and focusing on my goals makes me a more balanced, happy version of myself, and ultimately a better mum, a better wife, and generally a lot less unhinged.
Working for myself in the way I do now, there still has to be some consideration around the summer holidays and childcare. Here are some tips if, like me, you’re juggling business/working from home with children in the summer holidays:
- It’s all in the planning! Schedule the calendar well in advance, as painful as the thought is #EatThatFrog
- Tie up any important ends before the holidays start - use the holidays to keep things ticking along rather than going after new business or starting any new or time-consuming projects that will require your utmost attention
- Set an ‘out of office’ responder on your email and record a message to the same effect on your voicemail
- Schedule calls for when you know it’ll be quiet (kids in front of a movie with plenty of snacks, always a winner) and keep calls short and to the point
- Ask your husband or parents to have the kids for a day / half a day so you can dedicate a focused chunk of time to your business
- Get up an hour before everyone else each morning (I know, it's painful) or catch up with work in the evenings. Evenings are now my ‘work time’ - no more TV for me!
- Kids bedtimes - summer hols doesn’t mean the kids can stay up until goodness knows what time in the BossingIt! household - they still have their bedtime so I can work or have an evening with the hubs (hashtag selfish). There’s some flexibility and the odd late night, but for the most part their routine remains constant #IronLady #NotSorry
- Schedule an hour or two each morning for work. Explain to the nippers that this is your dedicated work time (so don't talk to me, ok?) and leave them to enjoy an activity or a book, then commit to dedicating the rest of the day to them
- Set scheduled times to check emails or manage social media (once in the morning / once in the evening) and stick to it, so it doesn't eat into your day (I haven't cracked this yet - it's a very real problem)
- Schedule social media updates with a tool such as hootsuite or buffer if you find this a better way to steer away from Instagram / Facebook / Twitter etc
- Employ a Virtual Assistance or outsource work if you need to
- Accept that you won’t be able to work at full capacity or be on top form, but remind yourself that you’re doing your best and you're at least keeping the plates spinning
- Banish the guilt! If you’re working because you have to (financially) you’re doing it for your family! Remind yourself of the reasons you work (the house you live in, the family holiday you’re soon going to enjoy, the Xbox the kids so desperately want). If you’re working or running a business for other reasons, remember you and your aspirations count too! Happy mum = happy kids.
What are your struggles with holiday childcare? Do you have any good tips?
Much love, Fran xxx
ABOUT BOSSING IT!
BossingIt! aims to empower and inspire women to be strong and independent, and to illustrate that life is there for the taking and that YOU are in control of it. I want to encourage you to realise your potential, so you can grab life by the balls and carve out the life you wholeheartedly want to live, so you can feel joy and gratitude each and every day, and ultimately be the very best version of yourself. I want to share the belief that if you’re not 100% happy with any aspect of your life, be it work, relationships, parenting, health & fitness, or life in general, it’s never too late to change things or even start anew completely. Every day is a new opportunity to start over, to be who you want to be, and YOU get to write and rewrite your story!