The beauty of boring school holidays

It was day three of the school holidays. I got up early to do some work before the kids got up. Five minutes later, they were up.  

They’re pretty easy-going, my kids, and very capable of entertaining themselves these days. Still, as I tap away on my laptop amidst various stages of breakfast, there is an evident vibe that this is all less than ideal.  

I needed to look over a project before a Zoom meeting, and coffee would help. Plus, using the coffee machine would occupy one of my in-house baristas for a few minutes. There was a brief argument over who that barista should be, and then I heard the promising sound of the machine warming up. Soon followed by the catastrophic sound of the handle (technical name is a portafilter, thanks Google) mysteriously crashing off the machine mid extraction, smashing my new handmade coffee cup and splashing coffee over the bench, down the cupboard door and onto the floor. So I cleaned it all up, boiled the jug, made myself an instant coffee and headed to the quietest part of the house for my meeting 

As my colleague and I discussed the school holiday mood at our respective homes, a few commonalities became apparent. School holidays can be tough! Kids can be fractious. Parents can feel guilty. In general, there can be a bit of a gap between expectations and reality. 

There’s parental guilt that the holidays we’re providing for our kids are too dull. We didn’t fly to Australia, we didn’t hire a campervan, we didn’t even go camping. To be honest, I feel like we may not get any further than the supermarket. What will the kids share for news on that first Monday back at school?  

And there can be frustration on the part of both parent and child. There’s a break from school lunches and drop-offs, but for many households, the holidays still include deadlines, meetings, appointments and grocery shopping. With all the kids in tow, all of the time. 

What’s really going on

As I sipped my better-than-nothing coffee, I took a deep breath or two. I paused and thought about everything on my plate that day, especially the tension of me being busy when my kids were expecting fun. And a few encouraging thoughts came to mind.  

These term one holidays are not like the summer holidays. Back then, everyone was taking leave and in holiday mode; the pace of January is a whole other ball game. In April, us grown-ups are juggling work and commitments. Not everyone has the ability to take more annual leave so soon into the year. Heck, some of us are still paying for those January holidays. So the juggle is normal. 

It’s also normal for everyone to be a bit irritable. For one thing, everyone is tired. It was a massive term; plus we’re still recovering from 2020. Also, siblings who are used to having their day punctuated by time apart at school and activities are all of a sudden forced to be together 24/7   

Less is more, but first things first

All of this makes self-care for parents so very important. If my tank is empty, what I can offer my kids is average at best. And if I continue to operate at critical levels of depletion, a broken pottery coffee cup will be the least of my problems. So while school holidays can feel all about the kiddos, it’s essential that I chisel out time to do the things that fill my tank. Like perhaps making my own coffee and sitting outside in the sunshine to drink it, rather than in front of a Zoom screen. 

I’m also encouraging myself that boredom is okay. Bored kids get to dig deep into their imaginations. They get to experiment with all sorts of creativity that they wouldn’t have the chance to do if I were bundling them up into the car for a day-trip to the Bay of Islands. (Which would, of course, also be cool. But so is baking cookies, trying to make your own Oodie out of a blanket because your mum is too frugal to buy you a genuine one, and vacuuming Mum’s car for $5. Seriously, vacuuming the car is really fun.) 

Finally, I’m thinking a lot about expectation verses reality. The problems occur when there’s a big gap between these two. The kids feel disappointed if the reality of their holiday experience doesn’t match up to their expectations, and I feel a bit like I’ve let them down. Which I haven’t. Freedom to sleep in, mooch around in your pyjamas, watch movies, try out all the new craft supplies that have been sitting around since Christmas, use all your Lego in one giant creation, ride your bike to the dairy or read a book all day if you feel like it – these are the wonderful features of school holidays, and things kids often can’t do in a busy term. Kids need to relax. So, while there are loads of great things about going away, it’s also totally okay to stay home. And it’s okay to do not much at all. 

I’ve helped our kids lower their expectations, just slightly, to a more manageable reality for school holiday activities and entertainment. Lowering expectations takes the pressure off. And this week we’re all a little less fractious and a whole lot more relaxed.  

I’ve realised that lowering expectations is not the same as disappointing our kids. (Or at least I’m really hoping it isn’t!) It’s helping them see the golden potential of everyday life, and to hold on tight to joy so it isn’t stolen away by comparison. Besides, school holidays that are way too awesome make the return to school more painful (and your kids might refuse to go and you’ll never drink coffee in peace again). Keep them dull and everyone’s happy to pack their lunchbox and head back to the classroom. Silver linings everywhere. 

 Written by Ellie Gwilliam

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