We’re now two weeks into the six-week summer holidays, and I have to admit: I’m struggling. We both are.
S was ill with chicken pox for all of the half term holidays, and after that she seemed to be off school more than she was there for a long while – it was only the last couple of weeks of term where she managed to do the full week. I didn’t mind having her home, and was really looking forward to the holidays. The last week of school seemed to go on forever, and I was desperate for the holidays to begin.
So what changed?
The problem is the lack of routine. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to realise this, but really – we both need to have a routine in order to stay happy!
S started nursery when she was 1, and her nursery only ever closes for 2 weeks over Christmas. So she has always had that daily structure in her life. Whatever was going on, unless she was ill or we were on holiday, she would be up and out of the house, spending a full and fun day at nursery and then coming home for tea in the evenings. We had Wednesdays and weekends off, but we still had that structure from week to week.
When S started school last September of course this changed, and we began a structured daily routine of getting up, eating breakfast, reading her reading book, getting ready and walking to school. Reception year at school is of course full of all sorts of fun activities, and then I would pick her up in the afternoon and we would walk home together, perhaps play a little, have tea and go to bed.
I hadn’t realised that with the six-week holiday comes six weeks of absolutely no structure. I thrive on routine and so, as it happens, does S. Much as I like not having to get up in the mornings, I think I manage my life better if I don’t laze about in bed until 9am. Being downstairs and enjoying a coffee by about 8:30am is my limit, even on a Sunday.
While S enjoys not being dragged up the hill to school every day, she is struggling with not having breakfast at 7:30, lunch at 12 and tea at 4:30. She’s struggling with having no concept of what day it is, or what time of day it is. Having gone five glorious years without much in the way of a tantrum, she has had several near meltdowns in the past week over very small things. Any time I ask her to tidy up or bring a plate to the kitchen; not being able to stop and look in the window of the watch shop in town; having to have vegetables with her meals. None of these things have ever raised more than a slight groan before but lately have been met with full on wailing. She has taken to running upstairs to grab Ted, doing that horrible cry children do when they want you to know they really mean business. It’s killing me.
I’m not used to dealing with tantrums; S has always been the most absurdly easy going child. It took me a while to realise why she was behaving like this – after all, at five she is too young to recognise it herself. She doesn’t know where she is or what’s going on; all of the things she usually uses to mark the day of the week or the time of day have gone out the window and she’s flying blind.
Even when I had a breakdown and was signed off sick for several weeks, I found I naturally fell into a regular daily routine because I couldn’t cope with all that spare time just splayed out in front of me. I would get up in the mornings, drink a can of Coke and set about baking a batch of brownies. Once they were in the oven I would wash up, and when they came out of the oven I would make the most elaborate, ridiculous chocolate fudge icing to go on top of them. Then I would wash up again, slice the brownies and put them in the fridge before heading to the shop to buy more supplies. I would usually then head to the local pub to give the brownies to whomever was there, and either sit in the pub garden drinking beer and reading, or head into town to sit in a coffee shop and read. I did this every day for a long time, and the routine only changed when I started having to go to group therapy three mornings a week – a routine in and of itself that helped me more than the content of the actual therapy sessions.
So here I am, with four weeks of no routine stretching in front of me. In front of both of us. S and I have a very close bond and I am genuinely concerned that our relationship will be damaged by this lack of routine and the way we both respond to it. So I need to make a plan. Here are my ideas:
- Set an alarm. I took great pleasure in switching off my alarm on July 21st; I was delighted at the thought of not needing to use it again in September… but perhaps I need to keep the alarm on, even if I don’t actually get up as soon as it goes off.
- Make plans. For the last two weeks I’ve been quite laid back/disorganised when it’s come to planning my days. I am self employed and I need to get my work done – but I think I need to plan in set times to do this, and set times to do fun things with S – rather than plonk down at my desk in the mornings, umm and ahh about what I need to do, then jump up and decide to go out first and so on.
- Swimming lessons. I have booked S in for an intensive swimming course next week, so every morning at 8:30 we need to be at the pool and ready to go. At first I really didn’t want to do this – it’s the holidays! I don’t want to be up early in the mornings! But actually I’m looking forward to getting up and out of the house early in the day, so that when S finishes her lessons we can go out and do other things without wasting our morning.
- Be strict about meal times. With it being the holidays I’ve been pretty lax about meal times. The problem is that when S is at school, I don’t stop work to eat; I usually work straight through until I go to collect her, and have my first meal while she eats her tea. All of that has gone out of the window in the last two weeks, and it’s affecting both of us. S is used to eating at set times, and I’m used not eating at set times!
- Switch the TV off. For the first week of the holidays I let S eat her breakfast in the living room at her drawing table, while watching kids’ shows on TV. This was a real treat for her, and allowed me time to get on with a massive work project I ended up doing during that week. The problem is that now S goes straight to the living room in the mornings, and I go straight to my desk – and neither of us moves for a couple of hours, and neither of us feels too great. She won’t like it, but I think it’s about time we started having breakfast together again, and perhaps make a rule that the TV doesn’t go on until a certain point in the day. Or that she can watch Milkshake, but then the TV stays off for a while. She’s watched so much TV lately and I’m really noticing that in her behaviour – as well as her constant coming to me asking for the latest toys.
I think this is where being self employed and working from home has its major down fall – because I still have to try and fit work in around S during the holidays, and because I don’t have the money to put her in some form of childcare. Perhaps I should have found the money for one day per week, for the sake of both our sanity.
How do you cope with the lack of routine in the school holidays? If you have some hints and tips I’ve not mentioned here do please share them – I need all the help I can get!