So judging from the feedback on my social media accounts this week I was not alone in merrily jumping out of bed at 6am this Monday morning in my best Mary Poppins mood and on countdown to the precious return of normality…….WOOHOO!!! However, mine was probably a slightly different experience to many mums…..And my long-awaited ‘freedom’ was short lived as I was telephoned to collect the littlest baby after just 2.5 hours!
I have had a bit of a difficult relationship with State-provided schooling in the UK. When done right, with passion and the right support, the kids flourish! When done badly, it causes so much damage to a child. I am a parent who has experienced both of these extremes.
I’m not sure if you know, but whilst providing your child (above the age of ‘Compulsory School Age’; AKA school term after they turn 5) with a full time suitable education is a legal duty of us parents; enrolling them at a ‘school’ is not a legal requirement. Yes, I hear the gasps now! I’ve personally chosen over the years to send my babies to State-provided schools; to home educate them myself when I’ve felt State-provided schools were damaging; and have also been forced into home-schooling (yes, this is different to home education!) by the failure of State-provided schools to meet their complex additional needs; and they are now back in a wonderful State-provided school.
Like many single parents, school holidays can be fucking tough. Your income doesn’t magically increase to cover the additional child care bills or the extra activities you need, or feel you need to be doing with the kids (the six week school Summer holidays alone cost me over £3000 in ADDITION to basic living costs!!!!). And the extra food bills too! Man, how come I can send my kids off to school with a packed lunch which on collection at 3pm they are still finishing bits off from on the way home, and yet come the school holidays they could quite easily eat the contents of a global buffet before 10:30am!?!?! And if you’re a mother to TWO kids with complex additional needs like me, you can multiply this pressure by a billion, and times it again!
Every little minute detail needs to be carefully risk-assessed taking into account TWO very different set of needs – nowhere busy; crowded or noisey. Nowhere with too many steps or too much walking. Nowhere that’s too open-plan as I have a ‘runner’ who regularly escapes due to their total lack of sense of danger. And equally nowhere too enclosed that it’s stifling. The list is bloody endless. And that’s before I’ve even thought about entry costings, travel times, along with ridgid medication and food times etc. It’s an exhausting job just trying to plan the school holidays, let alone physically carrying out the said plan (which 9 times out of 10 don’t go to plan because of factors outside our control – i.e. health, weather, sensory overload, meltdowns, violent outbursts – the kids, not me).
BUT, over the years I perfected a small list of activities which are my go-to toolkit during school holidays and I print off a blank calendar that we complete in advance as a family:
Forest walks – on good health days – great as there are very rarely any members of the public around who can set off the kids’ anxiety (believe me, you do not want to be the kicking target of my special little monkey when they’re feeling overwhelmed!) Price – FREE (sometimes a few quid for parking)
Swimming – my kids are both very sensory and absolutely LOVE being in the water. We always go over a lunchtime when we can guarantee that the pools will be far quieter (again, to avoid an anxiety-driven violent outburst!). If you’re on a tight budget like me, check which days your local pools offer FREE kids sessions – I took my kids swimming twice over the Christmas at two different local pools and it only cost me £4.00 in total! Price – FREE to around £8 for a family of three
Museums – again, I have to ensure that we are there as the doors open first thing to avoid the crowds and only ever stay an hour so the kids don’t get too overwhelmed or exhausted – try to end the day on a high people! And I always pick ones that I know THEY will enjoy; interactive ones with hands on experiences – rather that the ones that I want to visit to stop, read and learn about new things! This is purely about keeping THEM calm, happy and engaged. We are extremely lucky living in Wales as the majority of museums are FREE, and those that aren’t usually offer really good priced annual memberships which you can ask family members get your kids for birthday presents etc. Price – FREE to around £20 for a family of three – Also worth checking in advance for concessions for those with disabilities and Carers as often discounts or FREE entry is available (sometimes a few quid for parking)
Beaches – We are VERY fortunate to be surrounded beaches, all within a 30 minute drive. The youngest loves nothing more to dig big holes, roll around in them or run into the sea fully dressed (gets this from Mummy!). They are in their absolute element, no matter the season or weather! Eldest likes to throw a ball around and hunt for fossils as they are fascinated by the natural world. Always one of our favourite activities! Price – FREE
FREE events listed on Facebook – There are ALWAYS a ton of FREE kids activities listed on Facebook, found either by searching under the ‘Events’ tab or by joining various local parenting groups. This year we went to a fantastic FREE wrestling match held at a local holiday resort. Yes it was busy and crowded; HOWEVER as my kids absolutely LOVE all things wrestling, with a few tweeks to the day and precision planning around food timings etc , we had an awesome time! Price – FREE
My TOP tip mind as a single parent to surviving the school holidays is to take time for yourself. I can tell you the amount of nights I’ve had away from my kids in almost 11 years and lets say it’s less than 10 and half of them were spent in hospital either giving birth the the youngest or having major cancer surgery. Parenting can often feel like a thankless, never ending job, especially when you are the only resident parent. Add in the often intense and complex needs of children with additional needs and it can be a recipe for total exhaustion.
I used to be made to feel guilty for paying a private carer/personal assistant for the kids so I could have the odd few hours off here and there, but now I proudly grasp those rare few hours to recharge and refocus. I’ve fucking earned them over the years. It’s not cheap, especially when your kids have additional needs and take medications – you need highly skilled and insured personnel; not some teenager daughter of a friend willing to work all morning for a tenner! Over the 224 WAKING HOURS (i.e. not when they are asleep, although that is hit and miss with both of them!) of the Christmas holidays, I invested in just FIVE hours of paid childcare over TWO separate days to try and recharge my batteries a teeny bit. The first session I went for a long run, and the second occasion I went to the gym and food shopping (yes; food shopping in peace, such a bloody treat!). Price – PRICELESS!
So parents, especially single parents (and especially SEN parents!) – you just carry on celebrating the shit out of those ‘back to school’ moments, knowing you bloody rocked the holidays in your kids’ eyes yet again even when things didn’t always quite go to plan!
Amy Griffiths, Well Being Freedom Services Ltd ©