April will be a challenging month for working parents in New Zealand. Their children will be in school for a total of eight days thanks to the timing of Easter, Anzac Day and the school holidays. But it doesn’t have to be all bad.
Media Coverage and social media parenting groups have focused on parents’ concerns about what to do with children while trying to work. The slogan “8 for April” has taken off.
None of this is helped by the general silence in wider society about how working parents and organizations can better manage school holidays.
But there’s another way to look at this troubled month — and any other time when school holidays require parents to juggle childcare and work. It just requires some planning and collaboration between individuals, their support networks and organizations.
The mismatch between work and school
The “April 8” dilemma is truly an issue parents have been quietly dealing with for decades. Below the Holiday lawat least all employees are entitled to four weeks of paid leave. But children in primary and secondary school have at least 12 weeks of vacation each year. You do the math, as they say.
Little is actually known about the solutions used by working parents to organize children during the school holidays. Nor do we have a good understanding of how flexible work initiatives from organizations can be used to help employees cope with school holidays.
Read more: Parents, take the school holiday pressure off yourself. Let the children embrace the boredom
These gaps in research are surprising given the number of working parents, the frequency of school holidays and the growth of organizational initiatives supporting work-life balance, well-being and flexible employment.
While it may take time for research to catch up, parents can start juggling school vacations by using a “COPE” model.
The COPE model has four elements: construct, optimize, put into perspective and evaluate. By following this model, parents can sort through the school holidays in an organized and calm manner.
Construct – plan early what will happen for kids for each day of the holiday season.
Optimize – try to develop a solution that meets the needs of children, needs of parents and requirements of employers. It may not be perfect for everyone, but it should be useful and livable.
Perspective – while it’s a challenging time for parents, kids are resilient and won’t necessarily remember the solutions found for all the holidays.
Evaluate – consider what worked and what didn’t and use this information to plan the next holiday round.
Success starts with a plan
Potential solutions for juggling the holiday season are usually pitched at the individual household level, including school holiday programs. The cost of these programs can vary widelyfrom NZ$15 to over $100 per day.
While we need to develop a better understanding of how to help working parents as a group, there are some things individuals can do to help juggle parenting and kids.
Discuss your expectations with managers as early as possible to see if work can be organized to accommodate the holiday season (e.g. not having major projects during the holiday season). Don’t assume that your employer won’t try to support you.
Understand that one size does not fit all. You are the best judge of what would work for your kids for holiday fun. You need to consider factors such as time, logistics, cost, fun, recovery, technology, friends, exercise, and home dynamics.
Choice is important. Formulate a puzzle of approaches, including the use of annual leave, home working days when possible, paid and unpaid childcare options. The jigsaw puzzle can be different for each holiday period.
It takes a village. Share care with other working (paid and unpaid) parents, grandparents, neighbours, friends and supporters.
Give yourself a break. Try to find some time for rest and relaxation. Also remember that kids won’t be forever young, so the pressures of school holidays will likely lessen as they get older.
Employers can help
While parents take the lead in planning school holidays, organizations can also go a step further and help.
Supporting personnel. Accepting the school holiday may not affect all employees, but the impact could be significant for them. Also remember that other employees, such as grandparents, may appreciate work flexibility during these times.
Try new approaches. For example, if an organization is considering the idea of a four-day work week, try it out with some employees during the school holidays.
Read more: Structured school days can keep kids healthy. How do we cope during school holidays?
Link flexibility to recruitment and retention. Promote being “school holiday friendly” as an employer, which can help recruit and retain staff.
Bring children. If staff must be on site, find out if they can take the kids to work at specific times. Consider offering a workplace school holiday program for employees’ children – or at least a room with Wi-Fi!
Clarify job expectations. When discussing flexibility, also agree on key work expectations during holiday periods.
Changing conversations in society about school holidays, accompanied by practical solutions, could help take away the fear of parents. As COVID-19 lockdowns have proven, work and parenting can be combined when necessary. Wider conversations are also needed to find solutions for parents whose work simply cannot be done at home.
If you are aware of school holidays, you would recognize that there may be different ways of working for that quarter of the year occupied by school holidays.