How do we juggle work and teens in the school holidays? We do it year after year and somehow it works, but every time it’s daunting, isn’t it? I’m not talking about fun places to take a teen. I’m talking about where they are supposed to go when we are at work.
Have you noticed that once a kid turns 13, the school holiday entertainment tap switches abruptly off? Vacation care, day camps, even activity workshops seem to only cater for kids aged 5-12. After 12, presumably kids are free to roam the neighbourhood while their parents are at work.
But your kid is barely 13.
What age can we leave teens at home?
I don’t know about you, but I’m still not comfortable with leaving my 10, 12-and-14-year-old kids home for longer than a few hours at a stretch. Max is a pretty good kid, and fairly conscientious (actually, he’s not conscientious at all but I felt I should write that), but I would not want to rely on him in a crisis just yet. One time I came home early from a meeting, stopping off in our downstairs garage to unload a few things. I heard the ping of a text message and checked my phone. It was Max.
“Mum, there’s someone in the garage!!!!!!!!!!!!! What should I do???????????????????” it said.
I rest my case.
That means that if I were to leave the kids at home in the holidays all day, my 12-year-old would be in charge of herself, her older brother (!) and a 10-year-old sister. That’s just way too much responsibility in my opinion. Even without the younger child in the mix, leaving teens to wander the house/streets/screens for days on end is simply not my idea of an effective holiday strategy.
Useful guide: What’s the right age to leave kids home alone?
It’s an individual decision
Of course, every kid is different, every family is different. Many kids are just better equipped to deal with whatever the day throws at them than mine seem to be. And plenty of kids can be relied on to do more than just sit on a screen all day. I know many friends who have kids at home during the day while they work. It depends on the individual kid and family.
But back to the activity thing, because I really want services to step up. Why aren’t there more things going on for teens? It’s often at high school age when both parents go back to work full-time, so it strikes me that school holiday activities for teens are needed more than ever. Gah!
Until the rest of society catches up with us, here’s my advice for how to juggle work and teens in the hols.
This checklist should help: Home Alone Checklist – how to work out if your kids are ready
How to juggle work and teens in the school holidays
1. Swap with a friend
I have a mate who I regularly swap a school holiday with each holidays. She’ll have my three one day, I’ll have her two on another. It’s the most cost-effective way to occupy the kids while I’m at work I know.
Of course, the age-old ‘phone a friend’ works well here too – each kid goes to a separate friend’s place for the day. Logistically tiring, but each kid is happy this way. Don’t feel awkward phoning up the other parent to ask (or getting your kid to ask their kid, depending on age).
We’ve all been there and hopefully it will mean that the other mum won’t feel awkward asking you the next time she’s in a bind.
2. Library what’s on
Councils organise way more for youth than I actually thought. Libraries have so much more going on that just books. A quick check around the libraries shows activities like rock climbing, lasertag, film making, golf, art and more.
The activities may be for an hour or a full day, but I’m okay with that. If the kids are heading out to something for a couple of hours, it breaks up a big day by themselves at home. Transport logistics will be a nightmare, but worth it.
You can join in the activities at any library in your state and definitely check in with your local.
3. Work from home
When the kids are small, it’s ludicrous to think you can work from home while they’re home too. I have no idea how any woman does that. But once they are older, independent, reasonably self-sufficient, I think it’s more than achievable. If your work allows you to do so, then simply up sticks and make home the office for the duration of the hols. Sure, the kids won’t be abseiling or coding or doing all the things while they are at home and you are working, but that’s life, kiddos.
This might help: 10 activities for kids to do instead of screens
4. Workshop camps for teens
They definitely exist and they go a long way to helping juggle work and teens in the school holidays… but they can be really expensive.
Maybe it’s an equipment thing, or maybe teenagers really are just more expensive to take care of, but often the price is more than it costs to put a 2-year-old into daycare.
That seems outrageous to me. If you can afford it, here are a few that look good:
Camp Blue teen camp in various locations – $414 for four-day program
Australian Sports Camps sports camps across Australia – varies, but about $140 per day
NIDA acting and performance classes across Australia – around $500-600 per 5-day course
University of Sydney sports camps at Darlington and Tempe – prices vary from around $160 for two days, but note that many clinics are not full-day.
5. FIFO work
If the idea of the kids being at home alone for days on end is too much, see if you can work one day on, one day off.
A “fifo” work schedule might suit your workplace if it’s just for a couple of weeks at a time to cover the holidays.
With 12 weeks of school holidays to cover each year (more if your kids are in private school), most parents need to split up their work weeks to get the cover they need.
If you work Monday to Friday, working three days a week for the holidays might work well. This schedule gives you the most long stretches with the kids, with enough gaps in-between to make you feel like their time at home alone is manageable:
6. Residential camps
Next-level camps providing an away-from-home experience for kids to immerse themselves in a favourite activity or develop leadership or academic skills.
If you can afford a camp like this (and your kids are the kind of kids who would like such a thing), this could be a really memorable way to cover off your holiday care requirements.
Religious groups often run these kinds of camps, so either check in with your people to see if they offer one for your kids, or check that there are no affiliations if religion isn’t your thing. As far as I am aware, all of these camps are secular:
Quest Skills for Life adventure camps at various locations – various fees depending on camp duration and location
YMCA learning and adventure camps across Australia – about $660 for a 5-day camp, but various fees for 3 or 5-day programs.
CRU snow camps – various prices but about $1495 for 5-day camp at the snow.
Teen Ranch Round Up horse riding camps in NSW – $447 for 5-day inclusive camp
7. Neighbourly check ins
If a neighbour or friend is happy to do a couple of check-ins on the kids, you might feel better about leaving them home alone. See if someone who lives close-by is happy to do that for you.
You might also ask if they would mind doing the odd drop off and pick up for you as well so you can work some half-day workshops into the mix.
There are plenty of ways to pay back a big favour like this: offer to do their grocery shop that week; do check-ins on their own kids on the days you are at home; provide dinner a few nights one week; get the kids to weed their garden or do other odd jobs.
How do you juggle work and teens in the school holidays?
Feature image by Bruce Dixon