Subscriber OnlyYour Family

That challenging time for parents, when you have to be everything to everyone, is on the horizon

Jen Hogan: Summer holidays throw up the perennial dilemma of trying to work and take care of the children at the same time

The Easter school holidays are not long over and I’m already dreading the summer ones.

Some of it, I suspect, is a hangover from restrictions times and school closures. There’s an impending sense of doom, a trauma left over from the absolute failure to prioritise children’s best interests during the pandemic. But as I reminded myself, “it’s grand, they won’t be out of school for the guts of four months after these particular holidays”, my thoughts turned to the summer holidays and the perennial dilemma of trying to manage to work and take care of the children at the same time.

It’s an issue that’s difficult for us mothers, in particular, to raise in a public fashion. Dare to say it’s a concern and you risk being accused of hating spending time with your children. That or you’ll likely be asked why you bothered to have children in the first place.

And as those eyes are raised to heaven, it’s somehow overlooked that we need children. The replacement rate is too low. It is to societal benefit that people have children, to work, care and pay taxes to support an ageing population. Yet you could be forgiven, as the cost of living crisis rages on, for thinking that this has been forgotten.


The best thing about the summer holidays is the break from homework, lunches and school runs, the owning of your evenings once more, and the improved traffic. The most challenging thing is trying to be everything to everyone at the same time. It’s not that anyone considers school to be childcare, I hasten to add. Rather, instead, that young children can’t be left unsupervised, and learning is a welcome distraction from screens.

‘You cannot properly work if the kids are home, unless they’re on screens, in my house,’ one mother replied to me

Those pesky screens that parents too often have to employ as babysitters are there because, well, of that whole business of needing to be everything to everyone. The much lamented, lazy summer days spent outdoors aren’t quite as practical or achievable when mammies aren’t available to oversee. Because, you know, she works now.

Or at least she’s trying to, if only she wasn’t pulled every which way but loose.

And camps, well, camps are great – if you can afford them. And if you can’t afford them, perhaps you can work from home. But how do you work from home and care for your children at the same time?

“You cannot properly work if the kids are home, unless they’re on screens, in my house,” one mother replied to me. “I’m very distracted. Lots of missed calls and late responses and a lot of screen time for her,” another conceded.

“I’m not working properly,” replied another. “I couldn’t manage without screens and I hate them,” one parent replied. “So much screens. So many treats. So much guilt,” were the words of another.

So much regret about the approach that is sometimes necessary – but no lazy parenting, as can be conveniently implied. Parents were concerned about the amount of time their children were spending on screens, and were far from oblivious to the potential issues it could create, but were without a suitable alternative.

Because, although we say we want women in the workplace, the structure of society has not yet changed enough to facilitate it in a way that is fair to women and children.

When my older children were born, I presumed life would get easier, and less costly, without creche fees, when my children went to school. Those were the good old days when naivety fuelled optimistic delusion. And then I realised that while creche-loving babies and toddlers can work around your annual leave entitlement, school-aged children don’t.

There were those who had made their peace with it, one mother acknowledging that yes her career had been impacted, ‘but kids come first’

When I spoke to parents about this, women overwhelmingly replied that the struggle to juggle the shortfall had either compromised their careers or sounded the death knell for them altogether. “Mine ended. I didn’t make enough money to make it work,” one mother said. “I remained in an organisation too long just because I had flexibility for holiday time,” another mother explained.

“It ended with me having no career at all,” one parent volunteered. Another said she “was absolutely broke in the summer because we only have one wage coming in”.

There were those who had made their peace with it, one mother acknowledging that her career had been impacted, “but kids come first”, while another mother admitted her career had absolutely been impacted “but it’s the sacrifice I made having kids”.

I wondered if men had to accept their careers must take a back seat or be sacrificed because of their decision to have a family, and whether we might see structures put in place to support them working through the long summer holidays.

But we mustn’t complain too much lest anyone think we are not sufficiently devoted to our children, or don’t like spending time with them.