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So, how did YOU survive school holidays?

So, you’ve made it to the end of the summer holiday marathon. But with kids getting around 13 weeks of holidays, and most working parents only four weeks leave, how do you make it work in your house?

You did it. You’re nearly there. Either they’re already gone, or a day or two more and your children will be back at school for another term. But I would like to know, more to the point, HOW did you do it?

Every family dynamic is different.  It can be made up of single parents, nuclear families, full time workers, part time workers and then everything in between.

One thing we all have in common is the exhaustion that comes at the end of the Christmas school holidays. More often than not, by the end of this 6-8 week hiatus, we are all just simply looking forward to being able to stop worrying about the constant juggle that it brings with it.

My husband and I both work full time, however I am able to work from home for a few of these days. We though, like most working Australians, only receive four paid weeks holidays per calendar year. Don’t get me wrong, this is great and I am so grateful to work in a society where this is possible. Yet here is where we, like many other working parents in Australia, come unstuck. School-aged children have on average, 13 weeks off per year and you don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that 13 into 4 doesn’t quite work.

So what then, as parents, are our alternatives? I mean, I can already see people’s eyes rolling into the back of their heads and muttering “Well you had the damn kids, you work it out”. Or, “Just stay home with your children and this won’t even be an issue”. But do you know what? Not all of us have that luxury. The financial landscape of a family can change in an instant. No-one knows another’s circumstance and we should certainly never judge another for their choice or situation.

But, ideally, we really should have a contingency plan for the school holidays. If we have to work, apparently we should just farm them off to relatives, send them to vacation care or simply, take the time off.  But what if we don’t have relatives close by? Or we can’t take unpaid leave. When vacation care costs almost $100 a day, it can often mean that a parent is working for next to nothing, especially when they have more than one child.

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I have been advised, by one parent, to consider the “cost free” option – the kid-swap. This is a situation where say, you take their child for a day and then they take yours for another. This is a beautiful idea in theory but rarely comes together. So why then, don’t I just leave them at home to look after themselves? Well obviously the 14 year old does stay home and care for herself, even if this does mean she rarely rises before midday. Weirdly, there is no actual law that states the age a child can be left at home unsupervised, but in Australia parents have a legal obligation to ensure that their children are safe. So even though there are no actual laws stipulating when a child can be left home alone, it’s fairly safe to say that leaving my seven-year-old home alone would not be wise or okay.

What about taking your child to work? That would require a very understanding boss but you and I both know, you aren’t going to be focusing on work if little Kevin keeps coming up to tell you that he’s bored/hungry/needs to go to the toilet. It’s not fair on you, it’s not fair on the child and it’s certainly not fair on your employer.

The thing is, this is a relatively modern day problem and yes, sure, a first world problem, but a problem none the less. According to the Australian census, in 1961, approximately 28% of women were participating in the workforce yet by 1996, that number had risen to 78% and this figure, I can only imagine, is still rising.

Times have changed, yet the school roster our children are keeping, hasn’t. The current annual leave entitlements aren’t quite cutting it when it comes to covering these periods yet to change either of these two systems which are ingrained in our culture would be almost impossible.

So, this leads to two questions:

Do school holidays need to be shortened or do annual leave entitlements need to be extended? Because let’s face it, there is something fundamentally flawed about a system that gives parents four weeks annual leave and children 12 weeks+ of school holidays.

How do you deal with school holidays? Do you leave entitlements and/or school holidays should be reviewed?