When is a holiday not a holiday? Navigating the headache of the summer break

We Are Social’s Lucy Doubleday shares tips for how to manage the school holidays

Lucy Doubleday

Managing Partner We Are Social


You don’t need a mathematician to tell you that the average 28 days annual leave plus 13 weeks of school closure a year doesn't work on any level. And yet while many European offices shut up shop for August, us Brits continue to try and reconcile this mad numbers game and somehow juggle the school holidays along with a full-time job.

Many creative media businesses with a younger-than-average employee age are seeing a steady increase in the number of new parents on their teams and will each be invested in navigating every one of those unique journeys. From parental leave to KIT days and returning to work, we are continually striving to evolve our offering and make this monumental life change as smooth as possible.

But then the child turns four and another hurdle must be cleared. Enter, school summer holidays. I guarantee everyone reading this who has no direct experience will be rolling their eyes or clicking away right now but, for the sake of your colleagues, please read on.

The growth of hybrid working has gone some way to making it an easier situation to manage, with far reduced expectation of daily trips to the office meaning more flexibility for dropping off and picking up children. Nonetheless, it’s a tough six weeks to navigate.

To that end I have two tranches of advice to share - the first for those who have no plans to experience the horror of parenting through a summer holiday any time soon, and the second for those who are embarking on this delight for the first time in a couple of weeks.

Here goes:

This holiday is no holiday

For the vast majority of the time your colleague is off between the end of July and the start of September they will not have had a blissful few weeks of familial bonding. They won’t have had lie ins. They won’t have read a handful of novels. They definitely won’t have been putting their feet up. So while you are picking up more of the slack, know they are also working, just in a different job.

Don’t judge them

If they miss a deadline or have a video call interrupted or if they suddenly switch to working from home instead of coming into the office as planned, be kind. They will feel incredibly guilty and will hate letting people down so will be glad of and grateful for an understanding colleague or two.

Try to complement their leave

Allocating time off in the school holidays is a logistical headache for every line manager of a parent-heavy team, so the fewer people trying to get time off, the better. Not that many people would choose to go abroad outside term time if they don’t have to, but being available to work will make a lot of people’s lives easier.

And now, in the interests of balance, some advice for parents of school-aged children which could go some way to ease the passage of the next six weeks.

You will get through this

A bored, hot child for whom the novelty of being at home wore off on day three of the holidays will not be the ideal work companion and you will be consumed with both professional and parenting guilt as you try to juggle. The best thing you can do is be as organised as this period allows you to be, both at home and at work. At home, book holiday clubs (early) and set up reciprocal play dates. At work, communicate with your team when there might be the possibility of a client on a call, or visiting the office and create a structure so your colleagues know when you can and can’t be reached.

But be advised: Holiday club provision ends early

I recently discovered mine is not the only borough that, inexplicably, does not run holiday clubs in the last week of August. If you haven’t already planned your annual leave for that week, prepare to manage without organised help.

And it’s also worth noting you can pay for clubs using childcare vouchers or equivalent tax free benefit, which you can continue to accrue until your child is 15.

Book in a day off after the start of term

It may seem complete madness to use precious holiday when there’s no child at home to look after, but I absolutely promise that by the first day of term you will be burnt out. Plan a day entirely for yourself - perhaps with a friend or partner but categorically without children. Factor in this important time to recalibrate after a whirlwind six weeks.

Shake off the guilt

Parenting guilt is a well recognised phenomenon. Do they do enough clubs - or too many? Do I work too much or is it important I’m a positive role model? Should we plan out every day of the summer holidays or let them chill out after a hard school year? It’s a battle you will never win, so go easy on yourself. Recognise this is not a great situation for anyone but it won’t last forever so grab onto the positives - no homework battles, no hard and fast routine, no packed lunches or rush hour school runs - and give both you and your kids a break. You’re doing a great job.

Oh, and a bonus tip from one parent to another: Get your shoe shop in early. There is little that will sap the will to live quicker than arriving at Clarks with three days to go till the start of term only to find you have to put your name on a list at the door before spending an hour pressed shoulder-to-shoulder with 20 frazzled parents, 40 bored, feral children and a disproportionate number of buggies, before handing over £48 for a tiny pair of shoes - only one of which will come back from football practice in week two of the autumn term. Download Vinted and support both the circular economy and your sanity.

So with that in mind I wish you all the very best of luck for the next couple of months - the parents and their colleagues who are valianty manning the ship. You are all doing sterling work against the odds and I promise that, like childbirth, you’ll have forgotten the worst of it when the next time comes round. 

Guest Author

Lucy Doubleday

Managing Partner We Are Social


Lucy oversees the day to day running of We Are Social in the UK, ensuring its business is performing from a commercial perspective, but with a focus on people and culture. With a fully integrated background, Lucy previously worked at Dare and JWT as a Business Director. She is passionate about mentoring and is involved in the Who’s Your Momma programme by SheSays & BIMA's scheme.

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