Wednesday 18 September 2019

Sarah Caden: 'The long school holidays fly by, but not fast enough for put-upon parents'

The summer break is nearly done - good news if you're running out of steam, writes Sarah Caden

BREAKING POINT: Stressed-out parents are literally counting down the days and nights until the children go back to school. Stock picture
BREAKING POINT: Stressed-out parents are literally counting down the days and nights until the children go back to school. Stock picture

Sarah Caden

'They go back to school very early this year, don't they?" someone said to me in a Kerry bar last week. I told him mine go back on August 28, a Wednesday, same as last year.

He shook his head and tutted. It was always September in the past, he said, regretfully.

He was a man with grandchildren.

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Easy for him to feel regretful that the school gates reopen when it's still August, still, to his mind, full summer.

Today, Sunday, the kids have just over two weeks of school holidays left. It seems like no time, really. It will fly by. And then, on the other hand, it won't.

Unless you're away on holidays, and there's this notion that absolutely everyone sheds all work commitments and heads off for all of August, these are the tricky weeks.

They are all too fleeting and, at the same time, oh, so incredibly long.

According to a UK survey published last week, August 8, which was last Thursday, is officially the day that parents have had enough of the summer school holidays. The fun is over for them, apparently, and the stress sets in.

Just to be clear, that's 17 days into the UK school holidays.

Lightweights.

By August 8, Irish secondary-school parents have laid down approximately 70 days of holidays, while those of us with primary-level children have laid down about 40 school-free days.

Those UK wimps don't have a clue.

They are, apparently, so het up about providing daily diversion for their children that when they run out of steam and cash for activities, they become both stressed and guilty.

Stressed by the sibling bickering and the moaning about boredom, and guilty about the fact that they cannot meet the expectations they have created.

It's funny, really, how such a survey can make us feel good about ourselves over here. Our love-hate relationship with the school holidays is at the root of this.

Of course, every single parent in the land bemoans at some point the mammoth break the children get over the summer months.

Families with two working parents are rendered broke by the summer-camp expense of keeping them occupied while we go out to work. There is a massive keeping-up-with-the-Joneses pressure in this age when foreign holidays are commonplace.

The children are, of course, rather ungratefully bored by this point in the break, no matter how much foreign travel or fun activities we fling at them. And they are, let's be honest, driving us a bit nuts by now, as we've all spent far too much time together, regardless of how much we might love each other.

The summer holidays are too long. Foreign visitors and returned emigrants come here every year and are amazed by how long our children's holidays are.

They quiz parents about how we manage to hold down jobs and resist murdering our offspring over the long summer months.

They question us gently, as if we must be in a delicate mental state, like those who have survived a traumatic event. How the hell do you do it, they beg to know?

And we don't know the answer, obviously, but, being Irish, we revel in the quality of that questioning. We take it as a form of admiration of our national resilience.

We all know, from having once been Irish schoolchildren ourselves, and from now being parents, that the summer holidays are too long. And yet, they are one of those only-in-Ireland things upon which we pride ourselves.

Yes, thank you, world, we're stubbornly sticking with these overextended holidays, even if they kill us. But they won't kill us, because we're made of sterner stuff, and the parental self-denial inherent in the summer holidays is just part of who we are.

These days, the parental self-denial takes the shape of missing out on our school-time exercise routine because it's still frowned upon to leave the under-10s home alone while you go to Pilates.

Or not getting a night out, because the babysitter is blue in the face from minding your kids by day.

Or only doing things that the children enjoy because at least that means you get a minute's peace, even if it's a minute's peace at an indoor-trampoline centre with wi-fi so you can answer work emails and the office don't know you're at an indoor trampoline centre.

Our heads are wrecked, but that's kind of the way we like it.

In a perverse way, we love doing it for the kids, maybe because it makes us feel like better parents. And we love that we do it for longer than our UK, European and US counterparts, because that is the ultimate proof that we are the best little parents in the world.

The UK survey on the summer-holiday breaking point threw up some interesting results.

Reportedly, the average parent will hide from their children "in a locked bathroom" at least six times over the summer holidays.

There will be six rows between the parents - as opposed to between the parents and their kids - over the break. And 15pc of parents consider giving up work over the summer, not because they're having such a ball, but because something has to give.

We can all relate to aspects of those results, but still, we know that we get over it. Even those wimpish UK parents get over it, as they should given their relatively brief holiday period.

Apparently, 90pc of UK parents look forward to the summer holidays and 75pc say that they are sad when the children go back to school. Oh, how we all know how those contradictory emotions sum up what it means to be a parent in the summer.

Every summer, we know, the children grow like weeds and grow away from us that little bit more. Or even that big bit more.

It's why we hate complaining about it. It's why we relish how ridiculously long the Irish holidays are. It's why we snigger at our UK counterparts suffering from stress after only 17 days of it.

Yeah, it's torture at times, it's not forever. They're slipping through our fingers all the time.

And, when we're grandparents, we'll be able to truly tut at how sorrowfully soon another summer ends and school begins again.

Sunday Independent

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