Posted by Helen.
Where I live, our kids have five weeks holidays from just before Christmas to the end of January. They have two weeks off in April, two in July, and two in September/October. I’ve run out of fingers, so that’s eleven weeks.
A full-time employed adult will have four weeks annual leave to play with. Note, I’m talking about someone who still has decent working conditions – plenty of people are now working in casualised industries where they don’t even get that much. Now, assume she has a partner who is working full-time too, with four weeks annual leave. That brings the total to… eight weeks.
That is, if they tag-team. That means they don’t get to take any of those holidays together as a family. And that still leaves three weeks.
Holiday care for children has never been taken seriously, that is, by anyone other than the YMCA, at least in our area. This means that holiday programs are few and far between. Our local holiday program is booked out within a day or two of them releasing the booking brochure, which means that getting any holiday program days is like a military operation. If you aren’t quick off the mark, or you forgot to put the reminder in your outlook to lie in wait for that booking form, yer stuffed.
The alternatives? Grandparents. Who may not live locally, or they may be too old, as parents themselves get older. Other parents – guilt trip. And, then, of course, there’s the cost factor (high) and the very real possibility that your kids will hate Holiday day programs. I know I would have.
While childcare for infants is thankfully now in the news, this problem is still pretty much off the MSM and government radar. The only person I’m aware of who has written about the problem is Leslie Cannold.
First, reschedule and otherwise shift as much work as possible away from the period in question. Then, ask my partner what days might be available at his office when the other directors won’t have their kids with them, clients won’t be visiting and he’ll be able to shift his workload around enough to send a few employees home so that he can park our kids in front of computer games and the world wide web for the day. Simultaneously SOS everyone on my “working parents” email contact list to discover if we can coordinate care swaps (of the “I’ll take your older one Friday if you’ll have mine on Monday but only if both of us can make similar arrangements for the younger ones on those days too” – type) or mutual activities (of the “mine will only go to sports camp if your child goes too” – type). Finally, ring up both sets of grandparents and plead for the odd day or three.
By the time that final Friday arvo bell rings (one hour earlier than usual, just to add insult to injury) my desktop resembles a war room. Phone ringing, palm pilot synching, incoming e-mail indicator bobbing like a jack in the box, and – as testament to my weeks of effort – a calendar hastily blu-tacked to the wall splattered with victorious blue tics and a measle-rash of red question marks.
Oh, yes, that calendar. I favoured different coloured highlighters, myself. Two years ago, I’d had enough. I’d had a gutful of the stress of the pre-school-holidays negotiations. I didn’t go part-time. Instead, I went to my HR person and requested, and, to my eternal surprise, got, a “48-52”.
Under this arrangement you’re only paid for 48 weeks of the year instead of 52, but the difference is spread over all your pay periods, so you’re not taking four weeks unpaid. Instead of four weeks annual leave a year, you have eight. In other words, with the drop in pay, you’ve purchased an additional four weeks leave to spend with your kids.
Mummy tracked? Yes, sometimes I feel mummy tracked. I don’t expect my career to soar, exactly, while I’m doing this. But in general it hasn’t changed much. Most people are in favour of it, and more than one person has said they’re interested in doing it. So that’s why I’m at home, on a tuesday, writing this blog post. (Hey, I never said I was a good mother.)
Shortly after I negotiated the new regime, I had to do some work with a highly qualified man from outside the organisation who’d been called in to work on a specific, one-off upgrade. He was one of these highly paid contractors who wears his family-unfriendly work conditions with pride, like a holster on his belt. When I told him I was off on school holidays the following week, he was surprised, and said, “Well, that’s a good arrangement. But I have to live in the real world.”
Que? When did we decide that school holidays aren’t part of the real world?
We need to tell the parallel universe of contractors and bosses and employer organisations that hello, these things called school holidays have been around for a long time now and they’re not likely to go away anytime soon. The “real world” where employees have to be available 24/7, all year round, is a recent fashion, even if it’s something of a revival of the Victorian world. These people need to get their heads around the fact that school holidays exist, so if they’re serious about the skills shortage and wanting to retain women in the workforce blah blah – that is, if that isn’t just feelgood window dressing – then they need to understand that school holidays are part of the real world.