Some days my husband has to pick my daughter up. Some days she goes to after school care. She doesn’t know I’m coming today so she’s not looking for me. She’s laughing and talking to her friends, looking around for the appropriate line to join to be ushered to her afternoon care. She looks up and sees me and her face splits in two with a giant smile. She runs and throws her arms around me.
She’s hot and sweaty from the summer day and her sticky cuddle is sweet. I savour that moment and reflect on how hard it is for parents who don’t have the luxury of being available to collect their child after school. Or even to drop them at the school gate. Many working parents rely on before and after school programs to help them manage their work routines and that means many families have longer and more complex days than most.
When you are a working parent, nothing happens by accident. Everything is planned. There are some things all parents of kids in after school care understand:
1. You have to be organised.
You can’t wake up and wonder what to make the kids for lunch. You have to have that routine down to a 10 minute lunch box slam or better still – do it the night before! There’s nothing more gratifying than waking to a freshly packed lunchbox. (You can enjoy this knowing that parents with those extra few hours to kill every morning will still be hunting the lunchbox from the day before when you’re enjoying your drive through latte).
2. No one really knows you.
You don’t know the parents of your child’s classmates. When your child attends weekend birthday parties and the parents are laughing and chatting about what happened at canteen last week, you will stand awkwardly to the side waiting for another parent just like you to turn up. They eventually do, so you can laugh together about how good it is not to have to do ‘canteen’. Or you can drop and run and enjoy some downtime checking your Facebook waiting outside in the car.
LISTEN: Holly Wainwright and Ben Fordham discuss the struggles of working parents over the loooong summer holidays. Post continues after audio.
3. Other parents judge you.
Who am I kidding. Everyone judges you. Your parents. Your friends. Everyone feels sorry for your poor kid because they think it’s unfair on them to have such a long day just because you have to work. Like you wouldn’t rather be spending your days flitting from yoga to coffee dates. But no one says anything. Well at least not to you. They do say it though, with their eyes. You get a lot of judgey eyes and questions like ‘so how long is their day?’ Not everyone has parents who are willing or able to devote themselves to filling the gaps. After school care is like the grandparents you never had.
4. Once the alarm goes off it’s game on.
Your kid doesn't always want to get going in the mornings but once they do they’re actually pretty happy. Like you, they have a routine and as long as the planets align and they know what’s happening, there’s a real sense of assuredness about how the day is going to run. Some days they are so engrossed when you come to collect them they often want to stay another 10 minutes to finish the paddle pop sculpture they’ve been making.
5. The car is where you connect.
You spend a lot of time in the car with your kids – this is invaluable download time. This is when you can find out what happened at school. Who said what to who. What projects are due. What note you forgot to sign. This is captured time. Make the best of it.
6. You can’t have too many uniforms.
Buy 20 sets. Five lots of school shoes. 100 hats. A lost hat can ruin your morning.
7. Your kid may not be at soccer or dance but they’re doing something meaningful.
It’s hard for parents with kids in after school care to organise after school activities. The ‘I haven’t got my kids enrolled in after school activities guilt’ sets in hard as you imagine the terrible legacy you’re giving your kids. Your offspring will know a childhood devoid of leotards and dance mums. Actually kids do some pretty cool things at after school care – and they have lots of wonderful integrated play and activities with kids of different ages.
8. Every day is a marathon.
Wow, every day is epic. Somehow you’ve managed to meet everyone’s need and bring home the bacon. Pat yourself on the back for that. You deserve a glass of wine. Just make sure you wait until you get out of the car.
If only there was an after work care for you. A place where you could kick of your shoes, do some tai chi, have someone cut up your fruit. You could get back in touch with your creative side with a little bit of craft. You could connect with colleagues in a fun way.
The main thing every parent knows who uses after school care is that without it their lives would be chaos.
LISTEN: It's another Nailed and Failed bonus, which means we're talking about all YOUR parenting highs and lows. From the kid who found a terrifying new use for urinals to the genius move that will ensure your little ones never ever get kidnapped.