As part of our series on supporting your wellbeing through the summer holidays, Mental Health at Work’s Sarah Merrington asked parents to share the challenges they face over the summer months.
We’ve also collected some resources you might find helpful, both for parents and for employers.
Names with an asterisk (*) have been changed to protect the privacy of the contributors.
How hard is it really?
When I asked parents about their feelings towards the summer holiday period, there seemed to be a sense of dread. Many shared with me their anxiety about the extra stress the six week break would bring.
“I know that flexible working means we can sometimes juggle childcare and work, but I find doing both at the same time so stressful, it’s much better for my mental health to do one or the other.” – Sarah, marketing and communications.
It seems that many of us feel that we’re either looking after children or working, rather than replenishing ourselves. A lack of quality time to spend with our partners due to splitting up annual leave to cover as much of the holidays as possible was also mentioned several times.
It feels like there’s so much to plan – an almost military style operation is needed.
“My biggest challenge in the holidays is what I call ‘calendar sudoku’ which means staring at the calendar and trying to work out which child needs to be where on each day and what childcare I need, alongside my work shifts.” – Fiona, NHS physio
Why the guilt?
This ‘G-word’ was brought up by most people. Sadly, we’re not feeling like we have the right balance between work or taking time off to spend quality time with our children. Or sometimes we’re simply feeling that because of work our children aren’t getting the fun summer holiday that they deserve.
“The main area is the anxiety of guilt that I can’t spend all six weeks with them, enjoying their holiday.” – Mark, Utility Manager
And some of us feel increased pressure from our employers, making things even harder. We feel guilty for not being able to do everything at work or at home.
“I have experienced a lot of negativity (about being off for the school holidays) and being made to feel like I’m a nuisance which makes me feel so anxious. It makes such a negative environment to work in which leads to constant anxiety and stress when all we are trying to do as working Mums is to pursue a career as well as raise our children.” – Lucy*.
Childcare, childcare, childcare
The biggest stress factor is undoubtable finding affordable and practical childcare. Many free activities close down over the summer period and government funded nursery hours stop. Childcare outside the traditional 9-5 to support shift workers is non-existent. Working parents receive no help at all with the cost, not to mention the additional costs of food of having hungry children home all day.
If you are already struggling to make ends meet with the current cost of living crisis, this makes the financial effect of summer holidays significant for many families and very impactful on mental health.
“My youngest will still go to her childminder weekly as well as to friends/family but the expense of this can be a struggle. I work two jobs to try and make more money to help towards costs. This makes me more tired and stressed as I’m always rushing around between jobs.” – Zoe*, support worker
“It’s the cost of childcare, which has gone up considerably. We don’t have family locally so are having to use camps and nursery, the cost has just been scary, but we don’t really have any other options. Recognising the cost-of-living impact on parents is important in my view.” – Simon, campaigns
For the freelancers I spoke to, there was a trade-off between flexibility and feeling like you need to take the work when it’s available, often leading to working in the evenings.
“This is going to be a struggle because Summer months are always my quietest, hence I don’t earn much. Added to that I’ll have her with me on the other two days a week so will get much less work done! I’m expecting to have to work two evenings a week, which then impacts our quality family time and causes tension.” – Louise, freelance graphic designer
Do these stories sound familiar? Do you have employees working for you who are the parents or guardians of school-age children? These resources can help.