A single parent's guide to not losing it over the summer holidays
The school holidays are almost upon us. Bliss, right? Long lies, sunny days and lots and lots of quality time to spend with your kids. Well, that's the theory. Like many single parents I approach this time of year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Luckily I've learnt how to make it work so we're all still on speaking terms at the end of the summer. Here are my five top tips for surviving the school holidays as a single parent.
1. Plan in advance
Take advantage of your little darlings being out of your hair and in school for the next couple of weeks to decide how you're going to spend the summer break. OK, so you can't fill every day on the calendar with amazing activities and trips but if you plan a few things every week in advance you'll avoid stressful last-minute decisions. Involve your kids in the planning process: find out what they'd like to do and ask them to make a list. If certain activities are out of the question (young kids don't realise how much a fortnight at Disneyland costs) offer alternatives.
Try to get your kids' other parent on board with the planning. A shared online calendar is a great way to keep each other in the loop (provided you both check it on a regular basis). Find out when your ex wants to see the children and whether he plans to take them away for any extended length of time. Then book yourself into a spa for this period, ASAP. Advance planning, even if it requires a bit of negotiation, keeps everyone happy and lets the kids know in advance who they'll be spending time with and when.
2. Spend your evenings wisely
You won't have school hours to get all your other daily jobs done so be prepared to spend some time after the kids have gone to bed doing housework and other boring stuff like paying bills. You'll be glad you did the next day when you have a clean house, a balanced cheque book and plenty of quality time to spend with your children. Of course, if you don't give a bananas about housework feel free to disregard this point and spend your evening drinking wine.
3. Keep costs down
The school holidays can be expensive even if you're not venturing any further than your home town. You can keep costs down by deciding on a daily or weekly budget in advance (and sticking to it), taking packed lunches on any day trips and looking out for special deals and two-for-one offers. The earlier you book organised events the more chance you have of getting the best deals. Many venues and attractions offer deals for large groups so get together with friends to take advantage of the savings.
4. Get outdoors
Don't assume you need to take your kids to all the latest theme parks and attractions to have a great summer. There are lots of brilliant outdoor activities for your kids that will keep them entertained (and away from the TV and computer screen) — at little or no cost.
If the weather's agreeable get out into the garden with some cheap plants or packets of seeds. Kids love to see things grow and it's an activity that can keep them occupied all summer as the plants will need watering regularly. If you don't have a garden of your own ask a relative if you can help out in theirs or contact your local allotment gardens — you're sure to find someone who'll appreciate some extra green fingers.
Instead of doing arts and crafts indoors take your paper and paints into the garden and let your kids create collages and pictures in the sunshine. Scour your local charity shops and check Freecycle.org for preloved outdoor toys and games.
Of course the wonderful British summer may not always be conducive to outdoor play. But guess what: kids don't care. Splashing in puddles and getting muddy is just as much fun for them so dig out the wellies and suck it up.
5. Get inventive with childcare
If you don't have a lot of help with the kids during the holidays suggest a babysitting club with friends. Arrange to look after your friend's children for the day to give her a break and take full advantage of some time to yourself when she returns the favour. If any of your friends or neighbours have responsible older teenagers ask if they would like to do some babysitting during the holidays. Even a couple of hours is enough for you to recharge your batteries whether you want to catch up with a friend for a child-free coffee, squeeze in a gym session, take a long bath or just veg out on the couch in front of the television. It's important to find time for yourself during the school holidays for everyone's sanity.
For general parenting advice contact Family Lives on 0808 800 2222 or visit www.familylives.org.uk.