Surviving the school holidays.

This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from project manager and editor Rose Parkin. She says:

“Talk to me about school holidays.

We’re currently in the second week of Easter, but the summer break is looming.

Both me and my partner are freelance and we have two kids aged 5 and 8. 

We don’t tend to do a huge amount of holiday clubs (maybe 1-2 days a week at most) so the kids end up having a fair bit of screen time so that we can juggle work, cooking, house chores and our own downtime.

Our routine tends to be 7-8am TV, then ‘full on’ parenting (with one parent, then the other) until 3pm, then they have an hour of technology time, then a film.

Today I’m seriously feeling the guilt of them being in front of screens and missing out on the sunshine. 

I’m interested to know how others juggle holidays and maintain some flexibility while also having some structure to ensure work gets done?!

Is that too much to ask??”

Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.

Here’s what was said in this episode:

Comments on the previous episode:

[00:00:53] – Frankie
Hello. You’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie, and this is Steve.

[00:01:03] – Steve
Hello. Yes, each episode we take a question from the Doing It For The Kids community, do our best to answer it, but of course we start each episode by looking back at the last one. Taking your comments. Last time we were talking about…

[00:01:16] – Frankie
How to decide what your freelance business will be. So, you know — you want to go freelance, but you don’t really know what people are going to pay you for.

[00:01:23] – Steve
Ingrid got in touch. Ingrid Fernandez. Hey, Ingrid. Ingrid says:

“I think your advice around starting with what you can do and expanding and or narrowing from there is so helpful and a lot more practical than a lot of advice in this space, which is ‘find what you’re passionate about and just do that’. Which I don’t think really encapsulates how hard it can be to build a paying freelance career without knowing if your passion is a marketable skill.”

[00:01:48] – Frankie
Fiona Tapp says:

“I think you really need to be flexible with your business and let it evolve naturally. I started out writing education copy as I’ve been a teacher for 13 years, and it seemed like a good way to channel my expertise into my new career. But I quickly realised I found this work boring and my real passion was travel and general features. Even now, I sometimes see an education gig and will feel drawn to it, and then I remind myself, I don’t like that type of work.”

[00:02:11] – Steve
And Charles Commins says:

“Love that Steve started hiring videographers and animators in order to say yes to more jobs and grow his business.”

Oh thank you Charles. Yeah, it’s not for everybody, though, that pressure.

Our answer to this week's question:

[00:03:25] – Steve
It’s episode 80. This week’s question comes from Project Manager and Editor Rose Parkin.

Rose says:

“Talk to me about school holidays. We’re currently in the second week of Easter, but the summer break is looming. Both me and my partner are freelance and we have two kids aged five and eight. We don’t tend to do a huge amount of holiday clubs, maybe one to two days a week at most. So the kids end up having a fair bit of screen time so that we can juggle work, cooking, house chores and our own downtime.

Our routine tends to be 7:00 to 8:00am — TV. Then full on parenting with one parent and then the other until 3:00pm and then they have an hour of technology time and then a film.

Today, I’m seriously feeling the guilt of them being in front of screens and missing out on the sunshine. I’m interested to know how others juggle holidays and maintain some flexibility while also having some structure to ensure work gets done. Is that too much to ask?”

[00:04:26] – Frankie
This is like the million dollar question.

[00:04:28] – Steve
So, how to cope with school holidays?

[00:04:30] – Frankie
Yeah, I think this is a really good one to do now because we’re all fresh out of Easter thinking, ‘Oh, what went right? What went wrong?’ And suddenly summer feels very soon.

[00:04:44] – Steve
Because one of the best things you can do is plan.

[00:04:47] – Frankie
Yeah, I remember the first summer after my kids started school was just a total mind fuck. I think I just buried my head in the sand and went, ‘oh, when we get there, I’ll work it out’. That was such an error. And I remember you being a bit like, ‘Frankie, you might want to think about booking some camps or something?’ And I was like, ‘yeah yeah yeah, we’ll be fine’. No, that was bad. That was really bad.

So, yes, planning, not ignoring it, getting sorted. I remember there was one summer, actually, where you left it too late to book your kids onto their usual camp they went to, or the one they really like or something, and massively regretted that as well.

[00:05:23] – Steve
Yeah, they ended up in Ropey Mctropey’s and they did not like that. But it’s not just planning as in, ‘Can I book some holiday camps?’ Though that is worth thinking about, especially because some are cheaper if you book further ahead.

[00:05:37] – Frankie
And they book up — you can’t assume there’ll be spaces.

[00:05:40] – Steve
Yeah. But also planning your work. So are there projects that can be wrapped up ahead of the holidays? Reaching out to clients and discussing that and also planning for work to come after the holidays? That’s one thing that I try and do anyway — really scaling back the work that you do in the holiday period.

[00:06:02] – Frankie
It’s a really good point. Like seasoned freelancers and people that are…

[00:06:08] – Steve

[00:06:09] – Frankie
Yeah, more organised than me are the kind of people who have a wall chart right that they buy at the beginning of the year and they put it on a wall and they think about those seasonal dips and troughs. They put in those school holidays, they put in the significant dates and then they try and plan for those things. Like can I move things around, can that project that usually goes out in May come another time? But this is assuming that you know what you’ve got coming in as well.

[00:06:38] – Steve
And trying to put money aside so that you can afford to work less during the holidays. Maybe it won’t work this time around — with short term notice — but long term wise, maybe you can take the summer holidays off?

[00:06:53] – Frankie

[00:06:53] – Steve
And that might seem like, ‘Oh, what, I can’t possibly do that’. But lots of people do, they just build it in. They build in the fact that they’re going to do less work, or no work, for example, in August, which is something that I’ve worked towards.

[00:07:08] – Frankie
I think that’s worth saying, in that some people do that and I think for a lot of people that’s kind of a dreamy goal, isn’t it? But let’s also accept that for a lot of people that’s just not possible, at least not right now at the stage that they’re at or whatever. So yeah, we all need coping mechanisms to get through the summer with happy kids — relatively happy kids — and happy clients and happy us too.

[00:07:33] – Steve
All right, let’s explore those coping mechanisms. Let’s presume you do need to do work.

[00:07:37] – Frankie

[00:07:39] – Steve
So there’s Rose’s situation, for example, which is quite unique in a way. Having two freelance parents is fairly rare. So to Rose and to people like that, I would say maybe is the half day/half day thing working or would it be better to do full day/full day?

Would you be more productive if you had a full day of work while your partner had the kids and then the next day you were off with the kids and they were working? Because I know that this is obviously unique to individuals and families, but if you’re looking after the kids, part of you is always thinking about that work thing.

Whereas actually, if you think, ‘Right, Monday, I am simply not working — you have got the chance to work and I’m taking the day off with the kids’, you might find that you actually enjoy the time better, you actually relax more and then you come back the next day and you do a proper full on day of work. And that time is then swapped and your partner has the kids.

[00:08:43] – Frankie
It’s a good point because you’re less distracted. You’re going to be better at the parenting and better at the work if you have a whole day to commit. Also, she’s talking about ‘I feel bad about them being front screens a lot’.

If you had a whole day, you could do like Rob did the other day and take them to the beach. Like, drive them somewhere or get on a train or have a proper day out, which is very hard to do when you’ve only got three or 4 hours. But then you might not want to do it…

I mean, I’m the kind of person who’s like, ‘I don’t really want to take them on a train for an hour to the beach’. But Rob loves it. He loves doing that sort of thing. But I guess it gives you more options about what you can do with your days. Work wise and entertaining the kids.

[00:09:21] – Steve
Then there’s going to be some people whose other half is full-time employed, in which case it can be all too easy for the child care to fall to us. We accept that. Like, we wanted this flexibility, right?

But maybe your other half who’s full-time employed can take a day off every week and that’s your work day. And you go out to work — go to a co-work space or whatever, or they have to go out, but they’re not allowed to be at home. Either way, you are definitely not parenting, you’re just working. But you have to bring that up. You can’t just expect them to think that.

[00:10:03] – Steve
Another thing which I used to do when our kids were younger, which I know we’ve talked about before: childcare swaps.

[00:10:09] – Frankie

[00:10:10] – Steve
So basically your kids go to their house, for example, in the morning and then their kids come to your house in the afternoon. If you can’t do that, then there’s just the classic play date — very often that is then reciprocated.

[00:10:23] – Frankie
And if you’ve got smaller kids — like babies and toddlers — I used to do the same idea, but you were all under one roof. So the kids would be in the living room with one adult while the other adult works somewhere else. Close enough that they don’t feel like they’ve been abandoned by their carer.

And if you do need to come back, you’re literally in the next room or whatever, but far enough away that you can put your headphones on and get some stuff done. And then we would swap. So one of us would work for two or three hours while looking after the smalls, and then we swap over and have lunch together or whatever, and that worked really nicely.

But it massively depends on, as always, on a million factors like who that person is, who that friend is that you’re going to do that arrangement with, and whether your kids get on, how old they are, how needy they are, how dependent they are still on you et cetera, et cetera.

[00:11:12] – Steve
Annoying when one pair of the kids get on really well and others don’t.

[00:11:17] – Frankie
When you’ve got multiple kids, it’s like a whole world of pain, isn’t it? But when it works, it’s great.

[00:11:24] – Steve
This isn’t an option for everybody. We never had this option, but family members.

[00:11:30] – Frankie
But don’t depend on them. Seriously!

[00:11:32] – Steve
But you do, you also need to book them in.

[00:11:34] – Frankie

[00:11:35] – Steve
And also be able to communicate to them. — and we’ve discussed this in previous episode —, the fact that you actually need to work.

[00:11:42] – Frankie
We’ve got a great episode. I can’t remember exactly what it’s called. Hang on, let me find it…

[00:11:46] – Steve
So if they’re coming over to your house, you’re not there to chat and to make them lunch and things like that. You need to work.

[00:11:54] – Frankie
We’ve got a whole episode on this, episode twelve. It’s called ‘When childcare help from your family isn’t actually much help’. And that’s not to say it’s always like that, but yeah, it can be more complicated than just, ‘oh, they’ll go to Granny’ because Granny might get ill, or makes other plans. It’s amazing to have. And when it works, it’s brilliant, but it can be quite unpredictable.

[00:12:22] – Steve
And then there’s the element which is kind of like you need to be super productive, basically, in the pockets of time when you can work again.

[00:12:32] – Frankie
Prep is quite important. So having a list that’s really clear of what you’re getting done that day. We always refer back to Rebecca Lismer, because she shares it so much on her Instagram stories where she plans out her week and every evening I think she writes what she’s going to do the next day on a little tick list and just goes through them.

Having something like that is so helpful, rather than sitting down at your desk and going, ‘I’ve got so little time, what do I do?’ You get frozen and overwhelmed so easily. So, yeah, really being clear on what you’re going to achieve.

[00:13:03] – Steve
And also consider which tasks are better suited to parts of the day. So if you are going to be somebody who works super early in the morning or late at night. Make sure that you do the task which suits your energy and creativity at those times.

[00:13:18] – Frankie
If I was in Rose’s position. I would be fighting tooth and nail for the morning slot because I get so much more done in the morning than I do after lunch.

[00:13:29] – Steve
And then there’s dealing with the guilt. ‘Today I’m seriously feeling the guilt of them being in front of screens and missing out on the sunshine’. Yeah, but if you put them in for the sunshine, they won’t be able to see the screen so well, the glare. So you’re doing them a favour, Rose.

I don’t know. There’s that guilt. But you also have to remind yourself that what if you had an office job and you had to go into the office and your kids didn’t you see all day? Yeah, you’d feel guilty about that in a different way. We feel guilty no matter what we do.

[00:13:59] – Frankie
Yeah, totally. Like, fuck the guilt. Everybody carries that. Try not to let it get to you.

As with so many other episodes, I think communication is key here in terms of your clients. So like giving them the heads up. Also make sure you have an autoresponder that explains what’s going on, when people can expect to get a response from you, how quickly that might be. And then on the flip side, talking to your kids a lot as well.

So like, if the plan is today — they’re going to be with mum from nine till twelve and dad from twelve till three. Communicate that to them. ‘Here’s the plan. And when X parent is working, please don’t interrupt them. Please go through other parent’.

Like, they’re not stupid, even the small ones. I mean, if you’ve got a baby, it’s a bit different but even toddlers understand. They might not like it. They might still break their way in, clawing under the door. But if you don’t communicate that to them, you’ve already shot yourself in the foot.

[00:14:58] – Steve
And finally communicating it to your other half, ifthere is another half because I’m conscious that we’ve not talked about solo parents.

[00:15:05] – Frankie
Yes, well, that’s a whole other episode, isn’t it?

[00:15:07] – Steve
If there is another half — communicating to them Like, they can’t know what your workload is or what your client expectations are and the fact that you’ve got this deadline to meet. They can’t know that unless you tell it to them.

[00:15:23] – Frankie
Yes. Talking. Keep talking.

I feel like car working is quite a good option over the summer break.

[00:15:30] – Steve
I did this even at Easter, our daughter went to something and it’s only on for maybe two or 3 hours. Well, I’m not going to waste my time driving there 20 minutes, back 20 minutes…. So I would just drive there, find somewhere around the corner to grab a coffee and then went back and sat in the car and worked.

[00:15:50] – Frankie

[00:15:51] – Frankie
But other things, like, we’ve talked about this before, but you can go to soft play centres where they’re fully caged, you know what I mean? There’s only one way in and one way out.

We talked about this, right when I first launched Doing It For The Kids, I think Lindsay recommended it? IKEA have in-house soft play. Basically, you can give your kids to the soft play centre at IKEA for up to 2 hours, I think is to allow you to browse and spend money but fuck that. Chuck the kids in the IKEA soft play. Go to the cafe with your laptop, get stuff done. But again, prep is key. Like you need something really specific to chug through. Not to say that you need to be working every hour, every day.

We did one other episode about summer holidays, which was about kind of marketing and staying visible during that break.

[00:16:40] – Steve
Yes, Ben the Illustrator’s question.

[00:16:42] – Frankie
Yes. Good one to listen to about stuff like this. I think we touched on this in that episode. But if you do have a kid who just won’t go to those camps or doesn’t want to be with somebody else, think about setting them daily, or like a summer project.

So, I could have my kid in the chair next to me here at my desk and they’re doing work, whatever that is. Like, they’re going to write a story or they’re going to draw a cartoon. I don’t know. You sit down for an hour to do stuff and they are literally next to you, but they’re busy doing their thing rather than watching you do the thing and feel like they’re being left out. Give them a client project for the summer!

[00:17:22] – Steve
Depending on their age. Like, get them to make their own little video.

[00:17:26] – Frankie

[00:17:27] – Steve
Oh my God, stop motion video. They love it. In the UK, libraries often have a reading challenge over the summer holidays too.

[00:17:40] – Frankie

[00:17:40] – Steve
And kids love a challenge. Not all kids, not all ages. Some of them eventually see through the ruse that actually you’re getting them to read books.

[00:17:48] – Frankie
But as always, it’s like — you know your kid.

[00:17:53] – Steve
Don’t forget, it feels like it’s slipping into a memory here — don’t forget what we bloody managed…

[00:17:59] – Frankie

[00:18:00] – Steve
…in the past two years of lockdowns and home schooling and all of that, when suddenly six weeks seems like nothing.

[00:18:08] – Frankie
That’s true.

[00:18:09] – Steve
Go easy on yourself, I think, when it comes to summer holidays, because otherwise you’re just going to make yourself miserable. Yeah. Just remind yourself you are capable.

What would your advice be?

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