How to Manage Spring Break as a Working Parent
What comes to mind when you see the words “spring break”? Perhaps it’s being enveloped by beachfront breezes, luxuriating in ocean views and feelings of stress melting away with each sip of your brightly colored drink.
Rather than mitigating the stress of working parents, however, a week-long school holiday can potentially multiply it, adding to the frenetic pace of life that comes with juggling a career while raising a family.
Spring break tips for parents
Here are a few tips to successfully navigate spring break as a working parent, as well as how to better address the overall balancing act.
Have a plan—and make it in advance
Unlike an up-all-night sick child who requires day-of scrambling to readjust schedules, you’ll know at the start of the school year the date of your child’s spring break. Then you can determine if you’d like to:
- Plan a family vacation during that time (giving your workplace plenty of advance notice)
- Make alternate childcare arrangements for young children
- Enroll children in a camp or activity
Monica Vaughan, a St. Louis-based healthcare worker, takes off every other spring break to spend time doing something fun with her children, who are 17 and 12. During those off years, she employs other strategies.
“I worked with other moms to have our kids spend the day together to help prevent boredom or being alone,” she says. “When my parents lived in town, they would help and have a sleepover with the kids.”
So if you determine a coinciding family vacation isn’t in the cards, perhaps you can take off a day or two during spring break and swap childcare with a friend or neighbor who is taking off the other days. If that isn’t possible, you could call in reinforcements, such as booking additional daycare hours, using a nanny/sitter or having family members lend a hand.
Just do your planning well ahead of the March/April timeframe. Spots at daycare or popular camps are often at a premium, so book yours to ensure your child can attend.
Give them a head start on independence
In addition to having emergency plans and nearby friends and neighbors at the ready, Vaughan also set up a system of rules and had expectations of her children while she was at work.
“When my oldest was in fifth grade, he would ride the bus home and call me when he got inside,” she says. “He knew the rules not to open the door and wasn’t allowed to go outside unless I was at home.”
Her second grader would go to aftercare until Vaughan picked her up in the afternoon.
While each family must assess the emotional/physical maturity of their children before allowing them to stay home without a parent or babysitter, Vaughan thinks she trusted her kids just enough for them to build the confidence to be independent.
“I set up expectations that a job is just as important for living as having fun,” she explains. “And if they make mistakes when they are young, we can help fix them or coach them through how to handle adversity, loss and challenges. When they get older, they don’t want to hear it as much.”
Shift your mindset… and communicate
It can be difficult to not bring the scheduling and job stresses home with you. Vaughan tries to keep it all in perspective.
“I remind myself daily that today or tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. This mindset helps me make decisions on what to do and prioritizing tasks,” she says.
Which means that something has to fall to the bottom of the list. In Vaughan’s case, that can sometimes be a clean house.
“I put emphasis on activities rather than things that don’t matter as much,” she says. “Yes, there are days I get upset—the house isn’t clean—but I get over it and look at all the things I have accomplished this week.”
Vaughan also talks to her children about what her schedule is week by week.
“So they know if I have to work late, therefore they are not disappointed,” she says. “We also talk about my role as their parent. It’s to help them be the most informed and independent as possible, in order to be good humans. So I encourage them to do it for themselves. The laundry if they can’t wait for the weekend when I have time, making food, cleaning their room, etc.”
Vaughan further keeps the lines of communication open by having frequent check-ins with her children.
“I ask what they could use from me, and how they are doing with me as their parent,” she says. “That has allowed an open dialogue of expectations, understanding the difference between wants and needs, and voicing their disappointment when I have to say no.”
Photo by bbernard/Shutterstock
Jill McDonnell is a Chicago-based content writer and communications professional. She has a bachelor's degree in magazine journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia and a master's degree in public relations and advertising from DePaul University. She is currently at work on a psychological thriller novel.
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