Summer holiday guilt – a working parent’s perspective on mental health in the summer holidays
Head of the Mental Health at Work Programme, Mind
Many of us look forward to the summer months – warmer weather, longer daylight hours and holidays can be a big boost for our mental wellbeing.
However, for working parents, July and August can be extra challenging when schools are closed for six weeks.
In this blog, Mind’s Sarah Merrington shares her family’s experiences of the summer holidays, and offers advice for employers on what they can do to help.
It feels a strange thing to say, but today fills me with an equal sense of excitement and dread!
For myself, as a parent of two boys (aged five and nine), and many parents like me, the first day of the school summer holidays is both a challenge and a delight. It’s a chance to enjoy some much-needed family time and a break away from the monotonous drum of daily life – to down tools for a moment and rejuvenate, whilst providing my boys with exciting activities that fuel some fun family-filled lasting memories.
At least, that’s what we post on social media.
We know ‘taking a break’ is so key to your mental health
In reality, there is another side. One of carefully planned out schedules, negotiations with grandparents and bosses, nervous glances at theand grimaces when a full-on wrestling match about the latest Ninjago figure seeps into my work .
We know ‘taking a break’ is so key to your mental health and wellbeing and productivity at work. So, how can employers support their parent workers to navigate through this tricky six week period and actually get ‘a rest’?
For myself and my husband, the lockdown andare still a very raw memory. Trying to work from home with children around me constantly, protect our own mental and physical health, whilst giving the boys some form of structure and learning in their day was too much. And although I don’t want to over-dramatise a parent’s plight in the summer, there’s a little bit of that panic setting in for this period too.
COVID and Essex, the impact of having children out of school for an extra six weeks in June and July 2020 on mothers’ mental health was substantial. In addition, school closures had a greater detrimental effect on mental health among mothers with more than one child.have had a significant effect on parent mental health. In a study in
Parents reported being spread too thin by the demands of meeting their children’s needs
In a survey from the University of Oxford, parents reported being spread too thin by the demands of meeting their children’s needs, along with home-schooling and work commitments. Higher levels of , depression, and anxiety were experienced by parents from single adult homes and lower income families, and those who have children with special education needs and/or neurodevelopmental differences.
It makes me think about the six weeks of summer holiday, and worry that some of those same stresses and strains will be impacting us for this period. But perhaps the benefits of lockdown are that I now have more tools to cope with the summer holidays?
I’m in a lucky position with family around me who are willing to help with the childcare, a flexible employer and a hybrid role, but many don’t have this luxury.
I asked my friends and colleagues who are parents for their top tips of how an employer could help us and our mental health in this challenging time:
- Having more flexibility at the start and end of the day to allow for drop offs that are further away or allowing staff to make up hours in the evening to enable them to spend more time with children during the day,
- Considering being more flexible with annual leave. Suggestions included offering parents a ‘first refusal’ as it’s so hard to sort childcare in such a long holiday, as well as allowing staff additional windows to buy/sell leave when they have a better idea of what their childcare requirements are,
- Helping employees to understand their rights, such as the ability to take unpaid parental leave,
- Being more flexible with shift patterns and sorting rotas further in advance so childcare can be found,
- Promoting information and offering services to support and flagging support available to help parent workers, such as the tax-free childcare scheme,
- Supporting staff by factoring in school holidays into workstream planning, knowing that many will have to take a large proportion of their leave at this time and if projects aren’t time sensitive, avoiding this time for pinch points,
- Raising awareness across the organisation of the challenges working parents face at holiday time so that employees feel less guilty and more confident in talking to their manager about the challenges and the impact on their mental health, and
- Starting a staff so they can provide support and guidance to each other throughout the year.
You can start talking to your parent workers about this now
If you are an employer, you can start talking to your parent workers about this now. Asking their views, what might help, and providing them with an opportunity to share together and support each other is a good first step to recognising their additional challenges.
My friends also gave me some personal insight into their parenting challenges – we’ll be sharing these in a future Mental Health at Work toolkit, along with some great resources for working parents and guardians.
Check out what other parents think and access some great resources, in our toolkit here.