Surviving the school holidays

The summer holidays are upon us. Depending on where you live and which school system you’re in, if you’re a working parent it’s time to grit your teeth for the next six (or even eight!) weeks of juggling work and childcare. You don’t need maths mastery to know that 13 weeks of school holidays across the year doesn’t equal 5.6 weeks of holiday from work. Even dual-parent households with two parents who are happy never to holiday together don’t have all the annual leave needed in the current system.

Read on for help to find your way through til September with these Summer Holiday Tips:

…when you’re relying on clubs

More difficult to get into than any West End nightclub, welcome to the full-time summer holiday club of choice in your neighbourhood. You’ve watched your email box like a hawk, pounced at exactly the right moment and secured places to cover everyone for at least three weeks. Your diary is a mass of colour-coding, your bank account is depleted and your summer holiday will be ruled by the packing of lunches and labelling of sunscreen.

We have nothing to teach you about scheduling, so we humbly offer some tips to help you deliver this perfectly coordinated plan:

 

#1 Get smart with the drop-offs and pick-ups

Summer holiday clubs rarely cover the same hours as the working day (of course not, that would be too easy!) so buddy up with two or three other parents to share the load and secure at least a couple of full working days.

 

#2 Help your kids to be self-sufficient

Even five year-olds can start to get themselves organised in the morning. Give them one simple job to be on top of, then as they get older, you can add more and more tasks until they’re sorting their own packed lunches and reminding you about the sunscreen.

 

#3 Try new things in the half-terms

Make sure you can relax in the summer when you need to rely on whole weeks of clubs by trying a single day or two in the February or May half-terms. Most activities will offer the option to book a single day, rather than the whole week. Assuming all goes well, you then have a pool of positive memories to tap into when you go back in the summer.

In March 2021, the Guardian reported on the 70% rise of requests from men for so-called “bro-tox” and other cosmetic “tweakments”, spurred on by the increase in video calls during the pandemic and perceived pressure to appear younger in order to compete at work. In the legal industry, where years of PQE are used as a shorthand to benchmark lawyers’ career status, it can be harder to hide your age.

In many ways, when it comes to ageism the legal industry is no different to other sectors. Lawyers with a four to five years’ PQE are widely sought after because the perception is that they will deliver good value, they will be more willing and able to put in discretionary extra effort and are more malleable than older workers. Not only that, hiring managers too often wrongly assume that more experienced candidates will either get bored, be difficult to manage, be less tech-savvy or be unwilling to “roll their sleeves up and get stuck in”. And the lockstep model of most law firms doesn’t help, with the traditional “up or out” culture reinforcing negative preconceptions.

On top of these assumptions, those who have taken a career break for family reasons – usually but not exclusively women – often have a second layer of prejudice to overcome. Too often they are seen as a more high-risk hire, as the assumption is that they will be the primary carer at home and less committed to work, even after a stellar early career.

…when you’re off yourself

Whether it’s by contracting, working a shorter year or using unpaid parental leave, you’ve managed to secure a sizable break for the lead parent – congratulations! This isn’t without it’s own stresses though, as you still need to either line up your next contract or fend off “favours” coming in from the office, plus you have the next six weeks to fill with activities or risk the dreaded cry of “I’m booooored”.

Try these ideas to make sure that returning to work doesn’t feel like more of a break than your holiday:

 

#1 Let your children be free to be

There’s a temptation to schedule every day, but research shows that for younger children in particular, child-led unstructured activities have a positive impact on their development. And children of any age are normally tired after a busy end-of-term. If the weather is good, set them up in the garden or park and let them do what they want. If it’s bad, have some time chilling out with an audiobook, games console or craft materials. Try a day where they choose everything you do and eat. Or set older children a holiday challenge – can they raise money for charity or campaign for a cause they feel passionate about?

 

#2 Don’t feel you can’t have some time to relax

Whilst you might be looking forward to uninterrupted time with your kids, don’t forget to put in some time for yourself. Whether it’s so you can attend to some work, enjoy socialising or just sit with a book, you are entitled to some time off. Book a couple of days of summer holiday clubs, organise a child-swap with friends or bring in a babysitter – you deserve it. You’ll also feel more equal to the rest of the break.

 

#3 Find ways to have some one-on-one time

If you’re the parent to more than one child, try to find ways that you can get some individual time with each of your children. Being able to give them your sole focus and spend time on activities tailored to them will help family life run more smoothly. This is also a good opportunity to tap into anything that’s on their mind and work together on solutions. Pay particular attention to milestone transitions that are coming up with the next academic year, such as the move to secondary school or life after A-levels.

Not only is ageism, like all forms of discrimination, morally wrong. It’s also wasteful and unsustainable. The UK has one of the highest old-age dependency ratios in the world, currently for every 100 working age people, there are 29 people aged 65 or above, and this is set to increase substantially over the next 20 years as fertility rates fall and life expectancy remains relatively high. This means that we are likely to see a shortfall in the tax income necessary to maintain our health, pension and social care systems, unless we have a wholesale re-think of how we utilise an ageing workforce.

At the same time, recent research shows that Generation Z and millennials expect greater flexibility from their employers. We are also seeing a rise in the types of work that can be automated, or part-automated, and the legal sector is not immune. The lawtech sector is finding new ways to create and review contracts, manage documents and prepare for litigation, for example, using AI and machine learning.

These factors present challenges for the future legal talent pipeline. It becomes harder to convince younger people that the challenges of traditional legal working practices are worth the rewards. The rise of automation, which tends to focus on the repetitive work often performed by trainees today, has the potential to further reduce the amount of new talent coming into the industry via training contracts. If we don’t start to think differently about training and utilising workers of all ages, the amount of available talent for law firms and in-house teams will decrease.

…when the grandparents are in charge

If you’re lucky you might have at least one grandparent willing and able to pick up the reins over the summer. Even better, you might even be able to agree whole weeks at a time when your kids aren’t even at home! Before you get too giddy with excitement, remember these golden rules to make sure everyone is having a good time:

 

#1 Don’t presume

Around 5 million grandparents in the UK support their families with childcare and while for most it’s something they enjoy, some grandparents report feeling pressured into arrangements they’re not happy with. If you aren’t already, make sure you’re regularly checking that the plan works for all parties.

 

#2 Embrace your differences

Accept the fact that life with the grandparents is not the same as life at home. There is little point in trying to maintain any control over what goes on, whether that’s biscuits before bed or chips at every meal. Be prepared for some bumpy days when you’re back at the helm and everything you hear starts with, “But Grandpa let us…” – it’s part of the deal.

 

#3 Respect their relationship

Having time with their grandparents allows your children to build bonds with adults away from you. As your kids grow up, grandparents can be a useful sounding board, a source of advice or a shoulder to cry on. Of course, there may be times when you need to hear about something serious that’s going on, but otherwise try to let them have their space and enjoy the fact that your children have this extended support in their lives.

…when it goes all wrong

In the UK, we’re still uncertain as to how the next wave of Covid-19 will play out. At the time of writing, rules on self-isolation and quarantine are yet to be reviewed, leaving the possibility that even the best-laid summer holiday plans could collapse. And that’s before we get to any other unforeseen emergencies. If you’re left with a childcare gap, try these:

 

#1 Childcare platforms

Online platforms such as Bubble or Sittr can connect you with babysitters at relatively short notice and aren’t just for nights out.

 

#2 Films, games and audio books

Yes, it’s not ideal but you can normally deploy at least one of the above and win enough quiet time for a call or to get an urgent piece of work out of the door.

 

#3 Your network

As long as you’re prepared to repay the favour, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends or wider family. Just make sure your kids know how to be good guests!

You’ve got this!

Enjoy the good moments, move on from any that are less good. The time we spend with our children has consistently increased since the Sixties, despite the fact that increasingly both parents, or the only parent, in the family are working, so our children aren’t being short-changed.

Don’t chase perfection, do your best, and remember, it will be September before we know it!

 

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