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"Holidays are when the wheels fall off"

Date

The Big Idea

Big ideas are what successful business is all about. Each week, Alexandra Cain takes a look at anything and everything to help your business shoot the lights out.

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Looks like you're coming with me, kid...

Looks like you're coming with me, kid...

Well, school’s back and you can feel the relief in the air. I dead set have no idea how full-time working parents manage child minding in school holidays.

If you do the maths, there’s roughly 12 weeks of school holidays a year, but most people who work only get four weeks off. So if you’re in a family in which both parents work full time, and you have children at school, you’ve got a gap of four weeks when mum and dad are at work and there’s no one home to mind the kids.

Not to mention if both parents use all their leave to look after the kids, they never get to go on a holiday together. And that’s just for families with two parents. How do single parents manage it?

So I spoke to working parents to find out how they cope. Some opt to start their own business so they can look after their kids. Others, like Kirstin Crothers, a consultant for Phoenix Trading, which sells greeting cards, gift wrap and stationery, deliberately take jobs in businesses that use a party plan model – think Avon and Tupperware – simply so they don’t have to juggle kids and holidays.

“Working from home means I can manage holidays and other child-related activities. Sure, the pay isn't as good as a salaried position, but people on a wage don't get the flexibility I have,” she says.

Crothers has tried to manage the kid/work juggling act in a variety of ways over time. Her husband also works from home, and the last time she took an out-of –home position, they could just about get the balance right during term time.

“Holidays were when the wheels fell off. I ended up swapping with other parents or dragging reluctant kids off to day camps when they'd much rather mooch about at home relaxing. My husband travels a fair bit and I was frantically juggling too many balls,” she says.

For some parents, the only option is to take the kids to work. This is what Eugenie Pepper, who runs a children’s clothing company, Plum, does on occasion.

“Today I had to do a couple of hours’ work that could not be put off so my son Tommy came with me to work. I always keep crayons and pencils at work for situations like this and he was so good and chatted with the staff. I have also looked after working friends’ kids to help them out when they have no other options and they do the same for me when I need to work and have not got care in place.”

That sounds manageable, but for many parents it’s not so easy. Cate Scolnik who runs a life coaching business called Change My Lane, says every parent she knows uses all their organisational and negotiation skills during school holidays.

“There's the negotiation between the parents, about who is in a position to take leave, and for what portion of the holidays. There's the negotiation at work, with employers, as to which staff are able to take leave during holidays. There's negotiation with family about pitching in to help – if you have family members able to help you – and you have to negotiate with children and child care providers,” she says.

Not to mention finding holiday programs kids want to go to, getting the paperwork right so they can actually attend, and working out whether programs have child care rebates. Then you have to organise drop-offs and pick-ups, as well as different working hours during school holidays, to fit in with the vacation care programs.

Says Scolnik: “My secret is to start planning as early as possible. I have holidays mapped out in my calendar a year ahead. I research programs, and note their enrolment dates. I make sure I book into the programs as early as possible, to ensure I have a place. I follow up with my vacation care applications, and get confirmation of places in writing. I talk to my husband about the upcoming holidays, and sound him out about taking leave – hey, it's worth a try.”

It sounds so different from my own childhood. It seems in one generation we’ve gone from the bulk of families having a stay-at-home mum, to every adult in the family needing to work.

Honestly, I do not know how I would do it, and trying to balance a family and work is one of the reasons I don’t have kids.

So I would be interested to hear from other families. Are there any secrets to ‘having it all’? Please share your comments at the bottom of this post.

96 comments

  • Its a regular nightmare! I am a single parent (with no close family support) so covering 12 weeks with just 4 weeks leave is highly problematic. Have tried every approach - trying to get absent father to surrender his leave (not much luck there); expensive school holidays program (tiring for young kids); swapping time with other parents; taking kids to work (not that work colleagues really like this); 48/52 work arrangements (less pay but more sanity!).

    Commenter
    julikaye
    Date and time
    May 02, 2014, 7:19AM
    • Oh yeah, can see your issue. We were lucky, I suppose, with both working as it meant that the eight weeks combined were taken in week blocks for school holidays with our three children and then vacation care when leave was not possible. No family in close proximity. It was only when all were in primary school as after that, they were on their own and still feel a little guilty about that aspect..

      We survived (just) and all worked out OK but looking back it may have been better for the family as a unit for either myself or my wife to cease working and lower our expectations. Probably would not have what we have now but that may not have been a bad thing.

      PS: Never received any childcare benefit as it was before the initiative was introduced.

      Commenter
      Faj
      Date and time
      May 02, 2014, 11:38AM
    • I feel for you. This issue should be one of the highest priorities of our society. And yet the economics of living in Australia defeat us actually getting on with our lives. We're the fourth most expensive place in the world to live. And working like this to raise decent healthy kids is made so difficult.

      Commenter
      Spiz
      Date and time
      May 02, 2014, 12:23PM
    • Maybe we should adopt the teachers employment manual where 8 weeks a year are not holdiays but rather non face to face teaching time.

      I am sure all of us can adjust to not undertaking our employment responsibilities and call it non face to face work time. What do you think fellow Australians?

      Commenter
      Angela
      Date and time
      May 02, 2014, 1:12PM
    • Hmmm . I asked my employers for more holidays (and an equal pay cut)... NEVER GONNA HAPPEN! Apparently my role is very important and so am I... until it comes to pay review time.

      Commenter
      cranky
      Location
      pants
      Date and time
      May 02, 2014, 2:54PM
    • Before all the taxpayer freebies to families, things were no different and free or subsidised child care not available. The difference was, that back then most women stayed home for those initial few years of child raising, then I recall 20 pounds per month child endowment came into being. These days, the various tax funded family & child payments and other benefits can add up to $350 or more per child for some. So in comparison, these days the taxpayer virtually fully fund the essentials of raising a child, whereby singles and the elderly are funding others to raise their own children. There is no family tax for families to instead fund these benefits during age 0 to 18. However, are we living beyond our means. Abbott and co, are starting to signal they feel we are via cutting family benefits in readiness for bigger national debts and unaffordable, and in it, are signs that they may soon abolish all family payments but honour all existing beneficiaries, and they will get away with it if it only affects futuristics, in other words they shall say, only have a child if you can afford it, reverting back to old days. Another thing is, most kids these days end up with only one parent and quite often end on sole parent payments. In more recent times working mums cant get childcare placements and blame stay at home subsidised care for that and higher prices. It looks like Abbott has these matters in his sights, then this debate can begin.

      Commenter
      Brian Woods
      Date and time
      May 03, 2014, 12:41AM
  • Yeah my wife stayed home for the first ten years of our kids life. i wasn't on a high income worked every saturday and we lived cheaply. Bought property in a nice area still and when my youngest went to school my wife found a part time job. her first back at work is still one of the great days of my life.

    Its about sacrifice.

    Commenter
    kellybellyfonte
    Date and time
    May 02, 2014, 8:29AM
    • Yes, as @kellybellyfonte has expressed above, it's just another example of the 'opportunity cost' of choices that we all make every day in life:

      Opportunity Cost: the economic theory of calculating the consequences of pursuing one choice or course of action over another.

      This is an interesting article on the "opportunity cost" of having children:

      http://www.banque-france.fr/uploads/tx_bdfdocumentstravail/ner130.pdf

      (Abstract:

      Economic theory often assumes that the opportunity costs of having a child and financial
      constraints have a simultaneous but opposite influence on fertility. This empirical paper aims to
      test the concomitance of these effects using the answers to an original survey carried out in 2003
      amongst nearly 1,000 French employees, giving information about the impact of their working
      schedule on the number of children they intend to have. The statistical analysis, based on a
      “ceteris paribus” approach using Logit estimates, strongly confirms the simultaneous presence
      of these two explanatory dimensions. )

      Commenter
      Annie
      Date and time
      May 02, 2014, 8:59AM
      • I did this for more than a decade, and with a couple of years distance from it I see how I could have done it better and shared the stress.

        I had a pretty serious professional job (part time) and like the women interviewed, I automatically ‘took charge’ of holidays: all the dates for the year were in my diary by February, family holidays were mapped out, holiday care, friend swaps etc all organised, employer wrangled, husband figured in and negotiated with.

        Now I look back and think what was I doing? Why did I not say to husband: ‘What if the family goes on holiday for the Easter long weekend, a week in September and the two weeks after Christmas, then I’ll organise cover for the kids for X part of the remainder (most of it, since I was part time), you organise care for them for Y.’

        He would not have liked the distraction from work, he would not have enjoyed the extra responsibility, he would have claimed he was too busy. And I would have reminded him that my job was, like his, a professional and responsible role, that I had not only mapped out the year but taken on the lion’s share already, and invited him to step up to the rest.

        Looking back I don't know how this never occurred to me, and while I concede the transition would have been painful, it would have been worth it to have that sole responsibility off my shoulders.

        Commenter
        Iorek
        Location
        Brisbane
        Date and time
        May 02, 2014, 9:08AM
        • But isn't it why you worked part time so you could organise the family side of life? 'Less hours in the office (no matter how serious your job is) means to men, you make up the hours in the home organising things like this.

          Commenter
          kellybellyfonte
          Date and time
          May 02, 2014, 11:07AM

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