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A working parent's guide to school holiday connection

Parenting Place holiday connection

A disclaimer right up front, all parents work. Paid or otherwise, parents work 24/7. This article is written with the parents in mind who have kids home from school and employment commitments to juggle at the same time. Annual leave only stretches so far and it can feel like the end of school term comes around with alarming frequency. The kids are on holiday, but you're very much not.

School holidays are great, don't get us wrong. Less rush, more PJs, no school lunchboxes. School holidays can mean a chance for a getaway, an adventure, a road trip or simply checking out local attractions. But, in families where parents have to work right through the break, school holidays can feel a bit tense. Parents may feel thinly spread across work and home, kids may feel bored and disconnected.

The good news is that shorter periods of a parent’s focused attention still do a child a world of good.

There’s no magic pill for this. The work/life balance is a complex thing for families to navigate and some days it all works better than others. Encouragingly, there are huge benefits in making the most of even small moments of connection. Kids love quality time with their parents and yes, spending entire days together would be wonderful, but the good news is that shorter periods of a parent’s focused attention still do a child a world of good.

If you’re trying to meet the demands of both your boss and your kids and feeling pulled in all directions these holidays, here are five simple ideas for fitting in whānau connection:

1. Make the most of mealtimes

If you’re working from home, schedule long lunch breaks with your kids and take some time-out together. If you’ve got older kids with some kitchen skills, maybe they could even be in charge of preparing your lunch, setting the table and waiting on you! (It’s worth a shot anyway.) If you’re out at the office all day, aim to make dinner a bit more special than usual. Maybe the kids could plan some menus for the week and decorate the table. You could even have a themed dinner or two, complete with costumes and ‘international’ cuisine (sushi totally counts, as does pizza).

2. Something special in the evenings

Lots of after-school activities are on pause for the holidays, which hopefully means less parental taxi driving and more whānau time in the evenings. Book in some special activities that give everyone something to look forward to at the end of the day. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

• Board game night

• Movie night

• Bowling night

• A post-dinner dessert mission for ice cream sundaes

• Toasting marshmallows under the stars

• Family slumber party in the lounge

• Talent show

• Kahoot quiz night with another family

• Lego Masters challenge

• Paper bag challenge (basically put a set of craft supplies in a paper bag for each kid and issue them a challenge, eg longest paper chain, fastest cardboard car, scrap paper collage self-portrait...)

• Reading aloud a chapter book

3. Go big in the weekends

If at all possible, plan some adventures for the weekends (or your rostered days off) for something fresh to look forward to. And adventures don’t have to be elaborate or expensive – local and simple can be just as memorable. Alas the weather might not treat us that kindly in July, but we could take inspiration from the Scandinavians who claim there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Gumboots, raincoats and beanies may be required but some fresh air will do us all a world of good.

4. Puzzles and projects

Spread a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle out on the dining table a chip away at it together over the holidays. Puzzles are a great point for connection, and something you can come and go to as time allows. Likewise, maybe there’s a craft project or kitset model lurking at the back of cupboard that no one’s had time to get started – something that you can work on together in the evenings without pressure. Creativity is such a great outlet for work stress too, so long as we dial up the fun and dial down the expectations! (Trying to follow pages of tiny instructions and find the corresponding pieces from 1A to 5000B may not be your family’s idea of fun – it’s okay to face facts here!) Outdoor projects can work wonders for connection too. Maybe there’s some gardening or landscaping you could tackle with your kids after work each evening, or some fence painting to tick off together in the weekend.

In our family, every holidays we go to the zoo/buy a new board game/help Grandad tidy his shed...

5. Start a new tradition

Traditions and rituals offer so much in terms of family connection and speak volumes to our kids’ sense of identity and belonging. You may already have some traditions in place, like visiting out-of-town cousins at certain times of the year or a dinner party with friends to celebrate the end of term.

Whatever matters to your family, make a tradition of it and you’ll be surprised the value your kids will place on the fact that "In our family, every holidays we... go to the zoo/buy a new board game/help Grandad tidy his shed/sort our wardrobes and have a fashion parade/take a load of things we no longer need to the op shop/bake cookies for the neighbours/do a massive jigsaw/plan our summer camping trip/help at the marae working bee/read a new book together/watch Star Wars/have a themed dinner party/make a stop-motion video/climb our local mountain/eat ice cream at the beach..."

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam

Ellie Gwilliam is a passionate communicator, especially on topics relating to families. After 20 years in Auckland working mainly in publishing, Ellie now lives in Northland, with her husband and their three daughters, where she works from home as content editor for Parenting Place. Ellie writes with hope and humour, inspired by the goal of encouraging parents everywhere in the vital work they are doing raising our precious tamariki.

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