The working parent school holiday dilemma

You may have heard about the recent court case won by the father who was fined for taking his daughter out of school for a holiday. He (successfully) argued that his daughter’s absence record was exemplary – he just wanted to take his seven year old on holiday without a truancy penalty notice. You will also be familiar with the whole supply-demand thing going on which means that even the most innocent looking caravan holiday in a vaguely seasidey town will cost you an arm and a leg in the school holidays.

Welcome to the working parent school holiday dilemma: First you need to find enough annual leave to cover the holidays. And then, if you actually want to have a proper leave-the-house family holiday you have to re-mortgage the house to do it. School Holiday

It really wasn’t until my son started school around 18 months ago that I realised that there would no longer be impromptu holidays or last minute sunshine deals in my life.

When the primary school provided us with a nice glossy card listing the term dates for the year I remember thinking how thoughtful that was, and marvelling at the quality of the card (pathetic, I know). As I committed the card (via magnet) to the family fridge, little did I know that, from that moment, that card would dictate our lives. That particular week saw the start of tense political negotiations in my house.

The talks took place in our dining room. We each came prepared with a glass of wine, our work diaries and our best poker faces. The BreakfastClub Parents were prepared for battle.

“So, who is covering which school holiday?” I opened.

“Well you know I can’t take time off in May so that will have to be you,”  he bartered.

“Well I covered Christmas last year so it’s you this time,” I countered.

“But my work colleagues are married to teachers so I need to check their holidays before we can seal the deal”.

And so it went….

It turns out with a bit of magic dust (i.e. a couple of days to be spent at a holiday club) and the combined summation of our entire annual leave allowances, we were able to cope with the 65-ish days required for the school holidays and a couple of days for the inevitable ‘three poos calls’. It did carry one significant downside, however: my partner and I would never get to see each other with a smile on our faces at the same time. We would each be ‘covering’ a week at a time and couldn’t ‘afford’ the luxury of a week’s annual leave to spend as a family. Luckily, courtesy of a ‘week’s vacation with the grandparents’, we may well be able to salvage some annual leave for a family holiday. All of us. Together.

If you’re a working family or a single parent, I’m sure this will all be familiar. We can’t be the only family needing a bit of time together that doesn’t involve the mundanity of cleaning out the rabbit cage or demanding that bedrooms are tidied? Although I am really proud to have a good job and be mum to my two boys, sometimes, it is just hard to be a family. I’ve said it before, but this doesn’t feel like I’m ‘having it all’.

So, to the brave dad who refused to pay that fine. Thank you. We’re not criminals or incompetent parents who encourage truancy. We just want need a little holiday that won’t cost us a small fortune.

Yes, we will still comply with the dates on that blue card on our fridge and yes, we do really value the role of education in shaping the minds of our children. But when you’re paying almost the same amount of money for your toddler’s childcare as you do for your mortgage, it feels difficult to justify the cost of a proper family holiday. And that makes me feel a bit sad.

But in the meantime I’m off to rob that bank to pay for an extortionate static caravan break in Clacton. Wish me luck.

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