Summer holiday guilt – a working parent’s perspective on mental health in the summer holidays

Sarah Merrington
Sarah Merrington

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 the bank balance​Practical financial skills to manage money Web page This guide from Finty aims to equip you with money management skills and an understanding of the link between your health and finances.Free By: Finty View resource and grimaces when a full-on wrestling match about the latest Ninjago figure seeps into my work video call​Ways to make video calls less stressful Web page Video calls can be more stressful than a face-to-face chat. This quick guide from Leapers offers tips and hints on reducing anxiety before and during these calls.Free By: Leapers View resource.

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’?

A mother uses her phone while looking after her children.

For myself and my husband, the lockdown and home-schooling​Balancing home schooling and working Web page Working at home whilst looking after children can be very stressful. This information sheet is aimed at those working from home with school aged children.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource are 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 lockdown​Managing feelings about lockdown easing Web page As the UK begins to lift its lockdown, many people are returning to their usual places of work. This page from Mind explores what you might be feeling about the lockdown lifting, and offers ways to help you manage these changes.Free By: Mind View resource have had a significant effect on parent mental health. In a study in 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.

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 stress​Stress and anxiety at work: personal or cultural? PDF This report from Acas looks at the impact of work on anxiety, and can be used to help you identify areas in your own organisation that may be causing more pressure than they should be.Free By: Acas View resource, 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?

A father cares for his son while working from home.

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:

  1. 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,
  2. 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,
  3. Helping employees to understand their rights, such as the ability to take unpaid parental leave,
  4. Being more flexible with shift patterns and sorting rotas further in advance so childcare can be found,
  5. Promoting information and offering services to support employee financial mental health​Employee financial wellbeing: practical guidance PDF Offering financial advice to your employees might seem complicated. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) have created this PDF guide to help you safely signpost to sources of help so your employees can make better financial choices.Free By: CIPD View resource and flagging support available to help parent workers, such as the tax-free childcare scheme,
  6. 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,
  7. 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
  8. Starting a staff parent forum​St Mungo’s Diversity Networks PDF Networks are a great way of connecting staff who have similar experiences and backgrounds. At St Mungo's, there are several different groups offering support and advice.Free By: St Mungo’s View resource 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.

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