Survival of the fittest
How do parents survive school holidays at home with the kids?
I barely made it through the last one. Suffice it to say that I now dye my hair to cover all the grey. So instead of the 12 days of Christmas, it's the 12 days of survival.
#12 Just have fun Dec 17
Whether it’s tickets to a show, a play date, or just rolling around on the floor, it doesn’t really matter. Kids can find pleasure in almost anything. And for me, if the kids are happy, I’m happy. So at the end of the day, surviving the school holidays boils down to two simple things.
Love. Have fun.
#11 Start a holiday tradition Dec 16
School holidays this time of year are particularly special. One, it’s our long summer holiday here in Australia. Two, it’s the festive season. A special time for family and friends. Many families will have their own way of spending the holidays but the last couple of years we’ve started our own little traditions with the kids.
The first one I stole from childcare. Each year the kids make decorations to put on the Christmas tree. In particular, each of the three kids will make a reindeer from their handprint. It’s cute, simple, and makes a wonderful keepsake that documents how much they have grown.
Another tradition is a small pilgrimage to the city. We catch the train in to take a look at the DJs Christmas window displays, wander around the city looking at more decorations, then go for milkshakes and chat about which one we likes best. It’s a lovely day that we spend together, and the kids really get a kick out of at all the festive decorations.
#10 Be thankful Dec 15
Slightly off topic of surviving school holidays, but after a particularly harrowing day with the kids, it’s time for a reality check about surviving life with children full stop.
There’s a lot of pressure these days for mums to do it all – work, clean, cook, be fun and raise children that will be upstanding members of society. And though my husband does a lot of household duties and child raising, I still feel the pressure of rising expectations. Expectation from society, expectation from work colleagues, expectation from other mums, and expectation from the biggest critic of all. Myself.
But I think it’s time to give myself some slack, and not give into that feeling of inadequacy when I see pictures of perfectly manicured mums with successful businesses, immaculate houses and obedient-looking children. It’s time I look at the things in life that I do have, and not worry about the things that I don’t.
I am not a perfectly manicured mum, but I am healthy and have all my hair (though it’s turning grey at an alarming rate). I do not have a successful multimillion dollar business, but I can help pay the bills doing the things that I love. I do not have an immaculate magazine worthy house. It is cluttered, messy and some of it is falling apart, but it has character and charm. It feels like a home not just a house. And the thing I struggle with most. I certainly do not have obedient children. They question, defy and bewilder me at every turn. But if I look on the bright side (and not let myself succumb to overwhelming frustration), my kids clearly show a strength of character/stubbornness that will hopefully serve them well for the future.
So, after a day of challenges, I will endeavour to take a few deep breaths, find my silver lining, and be thankful.
PS. It’s a lot easier to be thankful knowing that tomorrow my husband will be taking over kid duty for the day.
#9 Buy don’t make Dec 14
There are people in this world who love to cook. I am not one of them. I can cook, but it’s a chore. I don’t have the inclination to spend hours cooking at the end of a long day. And I certainly don’t have time to spend hours slaving away in the kitchen when the kids are home during the holidays.
I know, I know. Why not involve the kids? Get them to help out with making dinner. Have fun while cooking. Apart from their age being an issue, let me remind you that I have a Type A personality with slight OCD tendencies.
Kids + cooking = lots of mess. Lots of mess stresses me out.
I realise that I could work on my need for order and tidiness. But I feel that just by having kids, I’ve made a lot of concessions in this area of my life. Any more and we will be living in complete chaos.
So to maintain my sanity and prevent the slide into permanent cranky face, I will embrace the ‘buy don’t make’ method of meal preparation these holidays. This will include but no be limited to play dates, family gatherings and Christmas parties. Instead of feeling the pressure to provide homemade goods, I will simply bring store bought. If it happens to be in a dish from home, and my mother-in-law assumes I made it from scratch, who am I to burst her bubble?
#8 Online shopping Dec 13
As it gets closer and closer to Christmas, the shops are getting busier and busier. There’s nothing I find more anxiety provoking than trying to take three small children to a crowded shopping centre, especially now that Miss 3 won’t have a bar of the pram.
My husband and I once lost Miss 5 (she was 4 back then) in a major department store. I had our youngest, my husband was helping our eldest, and Miss middle child wandered off in search of a better selection of toys. We hadn’t even noticed that she missing until we heard an announcement over the store’s loudspeaker. And that was with two of us. I can’t imagine trying to keep track of all three kids on my own while trying to do Christmas shopping. Three kids, two hands, you work it out.
This is why I love online shopping. No road rage as people fight for parking. No crowds in which to lose the children. I can shop anytime, anywhere, and I don’t have to ditch my shopping cart if one of the kids needs the toilet. All that plus delivery straight to my door.
This year I will be avoiding the crowds like the plague. I refuse to juggle shopping bags along with three children. I will simply let my fingers do the shopping (and deal with the credit card debt in the New Year).
#7 Less is more Dec 12
In a similar vein to #1 Don’t peak too soon, I think it’s important I don’t overschedule the holidays. In the typical fashion of a Type A personality with slight OCD tendencies, I like to plan an awesome day of fun activities. But, as I learnt from last school holidays, if you try to do this every day, you soon run out of awesome ideas or at least your ideas are no longer awesome in the eyes of three kids under 7.
With this in mind, I’m scheduling in time to do nothing. I’ll let my kids get bored. So long as we spend some time outside each day, I should be able to avoid them turning feral with boredom. And if I’m lucky, they might just come up with some awesome ideas themselves.
In fact, one afternoon while I was busy in the kitchen, the kids came up with the idea of putting on a concert. They worked out performances, wrote out a program and considered outfits. Unfortunately, on opening night Miss 5 refused to ‘play’ the guitar and Miss 3 wanted to sit in the audience instead of perform. This resulted in Mr 7, the creative director, storming off in a fit shouting ‘The concert is over! The concert is over!’
Ok, so things ended in tears, and we’re still waiting for the concert to be rescheduled, but at least for a few hours the kids were having a blast. What’s even better, they came up with their own awesome idea and I didn’t have to do a thing!
#6 Divide and conquer Dec 11
One-on-one my kids are loving, thoughtful and almost angelic in their behaviour. Add the three together and their powers multiply 10-fold. That would be fine if it was just their powers for good, but we’re talking multiplication of their powers for evil. Ok, so maybe not quite evil, but definitely not good. If it’s not two against one, it’s all three against each other in the ultimate battle for survival.
Despite all the noise and the fighting, it’s the silence that bothers me the most (unless it’s night time). Silence means that they are actually getting along. But inevitably it’s because they’re working together to commit a crime. Like the time I sat down to read a book, only to discover they had eaten the chocolate cake that I had cooling on the bench (after I had specifically told them not to go near it). The older two had talked the youngest one into climbing up the drawer handles to pass them down bits of cake. Apparently the older two were innocent of any wrong doing. After all, they hadn’t gone near the cake. Once the initial anger had died down, I had to admire the logic of their cunning little minds.
And so, that brings us to the divide and conquer theory. I find two kids easier than three, and one kid much easier than two. No combined powers up to no-good. Plus, if I can manage to off-load two kids to a play date or grandparent, they’ll be happy with a day out, and the third gets one-on-one time with mummy. It’s a win-win situation!
#5 Me time Dec 10
I’m an introvert by nature and I like my quiet time. All three of my kids are extroverts. This is an issue.
Though my eldest is now at an age where he can sit quietly and read a book, my younger two girls need company, need to be entertained and need to make noise.
All. The. Time.
From the time they wake up to the time they fall asleep, there is non-stop chatter. If I suggest just 5 minutes of quiet time, the response after 5 seconds is ‘I’m being quiet mummy. See how quiet I am?’
So to maintain my sanity and appease my introverted nature, I plan to work some ‘me time’ into the school holidays. Maybe have coffee with a friend, go on a date with my husband, or just read a book. I don't think it really matters what it is so long as there's no shouting, screaming, nagging or interruptions.
#4 Beware the sugar rush Dec 9
Before I had kids, I used to think the sugar theory was a myth. After kids, I am a true believer!
Now, I am not known to be a health nut but I do try to reduce the amount of sugar my kids eat and provide them with healthy food options.
But there have been times where I let things slide.
Like when I took the kids trick-or-treating this Halloween. The older two kids got a pep-talk at the start of the evening warning them about the dangers of eating too many lollies. Both agreed that they would only eat a few and save the rest for another day. My eldest did me proud. He restrained himself and came home with most of his loot to put in the ‘treat box’. My youngest couldn’t open the wrappers so had no choice but to be restrained. My middle child … what can I say? She got caught up in a ‘sugar high’ and binged. She came home bouncing off the walls with an empty basket, followed by emotional hysterics and sore tummy, only to crash in a ‘sugar coma’ a few hours later.
What did I learn? Don’t believe a not-quite 5yr old when they promise they won’t eat a bag full of lollies. I know, that probably seemed obvious.
So this time round I’ve confiscated all the sugary stuff that the kids are bringing home as end-of-year presents from their friends at school. I will ration them out from our locked pantry (a story for another day) when I am prepared to deal with any sugar rush fall-out. And, there might be an elf that sneaks into the pantry at night … but only to save the children from the dangers of sugar ...
#3 Get enough zzzz's Dec 8
I am tempted to let my kids stay up past their bedtime during the holidays. It’s not like they have to get ready for school the next day.
But I won’t.
While I might sleep in after a late night, history shows that my kids will still be up with the sun no matter what time they went to bed the night before. In our house, tired children equals cranky children. Add to that a sudden deafness to the sound of my voice and we have a recipe for disaster.
Now each child is different when it comes to the amount of sleep they actually need, but most require a minimum number of zzzz's according to the National Sleep Foundation.
So, except for maybe the odd night for special events, it’s bedtime as usual for my kiddies!
#2 Play dates Dec 7
Thank goodness I have friends with kids of similar age, and my kids have friends with parents that I like. Since I’m fortunate to find myself lucky in this regard, I plan to put the art of play dates to good use.
Playdates can take various forms. Your child picks a friend to invite to your house, your child gets invited to someone else’s house, or the parents choose to meet in neutral territory (ie. no one’s house gets trashed) and maybe get a chance to have some adult conversation.
Last holidays I attempted a double play date (my youngest is too young for play dates). I figured if my two eldest kids each picked a friend to invite, they would each have a playmate to keep them entertained. Two birds, one stone. To my surprise, it worked out really well. The house was a complete mess, but both kids were happy and I had done my play date duty. They even helped tidy the house afterwards! (I confess there might have been a threat of never having another play date again).
But by far the easiest play date is the drop-off play date. As the name implies, you get to drop off your child to someone else’s house. Maybe with a plate of food to share. Now this is age and parent dependent, and I have only used this as an emergency when I was called into work. I am hopeful that there will come a day where I will be blessed with a double (or dare I hope triple) drop-off play date.
Please don’t burst my bubble. A person needs to have hope.
#1 Don’t peak too soon Dec 6
Last holidays I got carried away with planning the first week with exciting things – a trip to the zoo, a musical rendition of 'Room on the Broom', and a playdate with school friends. The second week was appointments with the doctor, the dentist and extra swimming lessons. By then, trips to the local park or bike riding were not cutting it on the ‘excitement’ scale.
I had peaked too soon.
This holiday, I’ll spread out the ‘excursion-like’ activities (eg. zoo, museum, ferry and train rides). I’m thinking keep it to 1 or 2 excursions per week with ‘off days’ in-between. Even though I call them ‘off days’, the kids will still be outside running around for some part of the day getting their dose of Vitamin D and burning off some energy. Trips to the local playgrounds, bike/scooter riding, walks, and gardening (interestingly my eldest loves pulling out weeds) are all going to feature heavily. Sprinkle in some craft, baking, board games, music or movie time and I’m hoping this will be the key to keeping them entertained for the full 7 weeks.
Here's why I need survival tips
I love my children. I really do. I know when it comes to spending time with your kids, it should be about quality not quantity, but I am not immune to the odd bout of ‘FOMO’ or a case of ‘they grow up so quickly’. So last school holidays I decided to take some time off work to hang out with my kids.
The first week was great. We had an activity planned each day and I was the ‘fun mum’. The second week I had planned a more ‘quiet’ week. That was my downfall. Expectations were raised and I was not meeting them.
Boredom was the path to the dark side. Boredom led to mischief. Mischief led to fighting. Fighting led to suffering.
And despite this, I’m attempting another school holiday. I refuse to be defeated. I may be outnumbered 3 to 1, but I am older and wiser. If I can get through medical school, postgraduate training, and giving birth three times, I can outwit and outfun 3 little kids.
This holiday season I’ve devised a battle plan based on all of the above.
It’s completely untested, so if you have proven strategies to avoid the dark side I want to know. I need to know.
How do you survive school holidays?