An emotional tug-of-war: Summer’s hidden toll on working parents

HR expert Alan Price gives some advice on how to get through the summer holidays challenge.

cost of living summer holidays

 

As a kid, I remember looking forward to the summer months more than any other time of the year. Warm weather, no school, and longer daylight hours meant we could play out for much longer. It’s easy to see why our kids love the summer just as much – they get to enjoy all the same great things we did.

In recent years, though, the summer holidays have quietly become one of the most stressful times of the year for those of us juggling work and family.

Here are some of the greatest challenges facing working parents during the holidays, as well as some tips I’ve picked up over the years that help me balance work and additional parenting responsibilities in summer.

Childcare

One of the biggest issues facing working parents is the cost of childcareChildcare costs drives one in three out of career. It’s no surprise that many parents struggle to find adequate childcare during the summer holidays, as research shows. Whether negotiating with grandparents or trying to find babysitters, nearly two-thirds of working mothers report not having enough childcare during the school summer holidays.

With the cost-of-living crisis placing increasing financial strain on families, many couples who might have opted to have one stay-at-home parent can no longer do so. The overall number of stay-at-home mums has dropped by 11% since 2019 – a stark reflection of the monetary strain adding an extra layer to the already stressful role of parenting.

Some tips that I’ve found help alleviate the cost of summer childcare include:

  • Tax-free childcare: In case you weren’t aware, the UK Government offers tax-free childcare which can cover up to £2,000 per child, per year, to help with the costs of holiday clubs, childminders and nurseries.
  • Camps and clubs: Camps and clubs can be a great choice for keeping kids entertained. Options include low-cost holiday activity clubs run by councils and holiday camps, which are especially budget-friendly if you book early or qualify for discounts.
  • Flexible homeworking: Since April 2024, everyone can now request flexible working from their employer, giving you more freedom to balance family and work time.

Being spread too thin

Unsurprisingly, our children being at home for almost two months can make it hard for us to balance our work and familial responsibilities. In a survey from the University of Oxford, parents reported being spread too thin by the demands of meeting their children’s needs.

These demands have been intensified by the cost-of-living crisis, which has increased summer costs for many parents, particularly on food and electricity. To add to the stress, many struggle to provide a fulfilling summer experience for their kids due to the demands of work, leading to feelings of guilt.

Some ways to alleviate this feeling include:

  • Plan ahead: Where possible, plan ahead, both in terms of the fun activities you’ll plan and the additional expenses you’ll have to take on.
  • Understand your rights: Employees are entitled to 18 weeks of unpaid leave for each child up to their 18th birthday. While unpaid, your rights are protected during parental leave.
  • Involve your whole family: It’s easy to feel like the entire burden falls on your shoulders – but it doesn’t. Get everyone involved in making a schedule for your kids over the summer. Coming up with a plan is half the battle.
  • Be clear about boundaries: You should never feel guilty about being a working parent. We’re conditioned to feel as if we need to apologise for our caregiving responsibilities, but they have to coexist with our work.

The role of employers in supporting their employees

Summer brings a unique set of challenges for working parents – so employers must step up to support their staff as they navigate the demands of childcare and work commitments during the busy season. I say this as a parent and CEO myself.

Be flexible: Recognise the challenges that parents face, offer flexible working where appropriate, understand the necessity of unplanned leave, and provide resources to help with childcare.

Shift your culture: Foster a workplace that values work-life balance and inclusivity. The needs of your employees are diverse and your policies should reflect that.

Show you care: Employers should ensure workloads are well distributed, offer wellness programmes and share resources with employees to help alleviate the burden on parents.

Final thoughts

In the end, the summer season should be a time for relaxation and fun, not just for our children, but for us as parents as well. By embracing the support systems available, planning with foresight and advocating for a workplace that understands the juggling act of working parenthood, we can work together to make our summers something to look forward to again – not dread.

*Alan Price is CEO at BrightHR and father to two young boys. 



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