School is nearly out! Hands up those parents who are starting to panic! While six weeks (or more) with the kids can be a special time full of shared moments to remember and cherish, the reality is that school holidays can be a huge challenge, especially for working parents.

And, increasingly, parents in Australia do work. According to 2011 statistics from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, 34% of dual-income families had one parent in full-time employment and the other in part-time employment in 2011, compared with 27% in 1991; 21% of dual-income families had both parents in full-time employment. 56% of single mothers were in paid employment.

A dual income has its benefits, that’s for certain, and recent research also suggests that more than 50% of sole parents who work in Australia are better off financially as a result. But, for many working parents, employment is not a choice, but a necessity. You only have to look at the cost of living in our local area, Sydney’s Northern Beaches. According to figures released this year, 15 out of 42 Northern Beaches suburbs now have median house prices of $2 million+. And rentals don’t come cheap either. A quick glance at www.realestate.com shows that tenants would pay at least $350 per week for a one-bed apartment; when it comes to 3-bed homes, there are very few options on the market for less than $700 per week.

So, parents are working to live. But, what do they do when it comes to school holidays? We asked around and found a variety of solutions come into play, some obvious and some a little more creative. Here they are:

Family and friends
Sometimes working parents are able to call on extended family to help out. Grandparents in particular may already be active during term-time with before and after school care. In the school holidays, they take on all-day responsibilities too. Other working parents turn to close friends to look after their children, often repaying the favour by taking care of their friends’ children on another occasion.

One or both parents work from home
This solution can work well if parents work part-time, shorter hours, or share their childcare responsibilities. However, it can be tricky to manage with younger children, who don’t always understand that Mum and Dad need to work. And it can leave both parents and children feeling that they are not spending enough quality time together.

Parents work flexible hours
Similar to the above, some parents run their own business and are able to adjust their hours to suit during school holidays. Or one parent may work to a party-plan model, such as Avon or Tupperware, and be able to reduce or change their hours when the kids are home from school.

Shift parenting
In dual-income households, parents often deliberately work different hours to be able to share childcare responsibilities. One parent will work during the day, while the other only works in the evenings or at weekends, for example.

Parents take children to work
The kids go to work with Mum and Dad. Yes, it happens more often than you might think! While older children may be able to help in some capacity, the younger ones go armed with pads of paper, Textas and iPads to see them through the day.

External providers
A huge range of all-day activities are on offer for school children during the holiday period. Music, art, drama, sport … you name it, there is something to interest everyone. Cost can be a restrictive factor, however, with some programmes costing upwards of $100 per day. Many parents choose instead to look into school vacation care such as OOSH, which can be more cost-effective, particularly after CCB reductions have been applied.

Despite the options, the holidays are – and always will be – a juggle for working parents and their children. The secret: plan in advance! Squeeze in additional tasks during term-time if possible and/or highlight the jobs you absolutely have to do during the holidays. Schedule each day so you know where your kids are going to be and when. And, if you can, throw in a few days of annual leave or time off during the school break. That way, you can share special moments with your family without the pressure of a looming work deadline.

How do you make it work during school holidays?

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