parent opinion

PARENT OPINION: ‘The invisible load of being a working school parent.’

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Before I had kids of my own, I had this idea that once they were old enough to be at school, the ability to balance work with parent life became much easier. No more sleep deprivation, nappies or toddler tantrums in the middle of Coles.     

But what I didn’t fully comprehend and still haven’t exactly mastered, is that when kids start school, the days are short and the holidays are long. So while there might not be any disrupted night dramas or nappies to change, the workload of being a working school parent has become less physical and more… organisational.  

Since our two boys were born, the first in 2010 and second in 2017, my husband Jules has mostly been employed full-time. I worked freelance for many years to ensure I was around for drop offs, pickups, sick days, holidays and plenty of cuddles. 

Like many families, it was easier for our household to have one parent at home more. But when the opportunity for my dream job came up at Mamamia, it was too good to miss and I was ready to get back into the workforce. 

I love working and I love being a parent, but sometimes these two elements in my life do not mesh well together. Jules works shorter days, which is great. But as an essential worker, it is much more complicated for him to take leave or sick days for the kids and so those elements still fall to me.

It is a constant juggle – as any working parent knows. When the day goes well, and everyone is happy, fed and where they should be, I feel superhuman. When the day doesn’t go so well and we can’t find their drink bottles (again) and I’m late to a meeting because the school traffic was busy, I feel like an out-of-control mess.

During term time, it is a daily battle to ensure both boys have a clean set of the right uniform on, as well as a packed lunch they will actually eat and are out the door on time with shoes on the right feet. 

While I am at my desk focused on work (I write for a living) or catching up on emails, there’s the regular pinging of notifications from class teachers and school admin about various things to remember, forms to return and homework to keep up on. Then before I know it, school is over for the day and it’s time for pick up, snacks and after school activities. And not forgetting to empty those lunchboxes, homework and dinnertime.

It’s a lot.

And as the busy school term ends and ‘holidays’ appear over the horizon once again, the planning begins for how to keep the kids happy, amused and fed while we’re still working. The amount of school holidays does not match the amount of annual leave for the average employee. Fun-packed holiday activities don’t come cheap either and so we often mix paid activities up with playdates and occasional grandparent care. 

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Two weeks later after school holidays, it’s already time to plan for the return to school and honestly, I am exhausted just thinking about all the things on my to-to list. Anything I can use or do to ease the transition back to school, while saving some dollars is a huge win. 

Things like my Coles Plus membership. I’m new to the idea of having a grocery store subscription (?!), but as it turns out, I can simply and efficiently tick off one job all at once; the new term ordering of school lunch box staples, kid-friendly snacks and stationery in a matter of minutes. It's free delivery for the products we all love, and scores me more rewards with double Flybuys points (at Coles) and 10x points (for online liquor shops).

"I can simply and efficiently tick off one job all at once!" Image: Supplied. 

I’m deciding between saving my points for an espresso maker and flights to somewhere sunny on our next holiday.

I quickly and easily organised my Coles order while on my lunch break and my free delivery was on my doorstep within 24 hours, at a time that suited me: just after school pick-up. When it arrived, my youngest son Leo loved rummaging through the bags to help me unpack some delicious treats (the pikelets and vanilla yoghurts were his favourite) and shiny new stationery. 

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The ebb and flow of term time and school holidays and the constant need to be organised, is a part of parenting older kids I hadn’t taken into account. There is just always so much to organise. And working school parents have had it particularly tough the last two years with pandemic anxiety, homeschooling and isolation added into the mix. 

Leo loves to help me unpack! Image: Supplied. 

I have needed help to manage at home and work so that I can be a better and more present parent and employee. I consider these three things to be my non-negotiables when it comes to lightening my parenting workload:

1. Calling on the parenting village.

Even though it sometimes feels like it, these ongoing, invisible working school parent jobs don't all come down to me! Help and support in the form of people – my husband Jules of course shares the workload with our children, but I’m talking about also having a community of family and friends. 

Fact: We don’t just need that village to help us when we have babies and little kids. We need our village until our kids are fully grown.

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"It is a constant juggle – as any working parent knows." Image: Supplied. 

We have a couple of local babysitters to help with the kids when family and friends can’t, and I try to outsource a few jobs such as occasional cleaning services so that I can focus more on my work, or having fun with the kids.

2. Looking after my mental and physical health.

A cranky overworked parent is no good to anyone, so I try to make sure I get some ‘me time’ for my physical and mental health each week. 

I love going to the gym, for a swim or simply going for a walk in nature. Not only is it good for me physically, but I find exercise does wonders for calming my busy working school-mum mind. It also helps me to remember random information like the fact that it’s Crazy Sock Day tomorrow or the school canteen is closed on Tuesdays.

3. Make the most of services and technology.

I also think it’s important to use services, apps and products where it works for you, that cut down the time I spend on the basics of working parent-life. Or just to get more done to maximise the finite time I have. I’m no stranger to using Airtasker when something outside my realm of expertise can be outsourced, and I also keep a running list of ‘to do’ jobs in my phone notes, plus use organisational apps to add appointments, events and deadlines that I don’t want to miss that is shared with my husband. 

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The last thing I need to worry about is running out of good snacks or having to run to the supermarket when I’m busy with work, so putting that Coles Plus to good use and ordering everything I need to get ready in time for the new school term (while also boosting my Flybuys balance) is such a win. I am happy and the kids are happy.

"I am happy and the kids are happy." Image: Supplied. 

The invisible load of working school parents is a lot, but if we make sure we share it while looking after ourselves and using the products and services that truly serve us, we can keep spinning all those plates and still have time for cuddles!

Get Coles Plus FREE for one month. 

With free delivery for every online Coles orders over $50 and double Flybuys points in-store and online at Coles, members enjoy incredible value every time they shop. 

Plus, members can now collect 10x Flybuys points on liquor purchases online at Coles, First Choice Liquor and Liquorland. 

Feature Image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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