Four in 10 mums se­cretly counted down the days un­til the end of the holidays and are now cel­e­brat­ing the start of the school run. Gail Short­land finds out why

Friday - - Contents -

‘I can’t wait for my kids to go back to school.’

There were stacks of dirty laun­dry piled all around the house, suit­cases that needed emp­ty­ing and no food in the fridge. Amelia was ex­hausted from the long overnight flight back to Dubai from the UK. Her hus­band Mark was at work and her two chil­dren Mad­die, eight, and Ben, six, were full of en­ergy. “What are we go­ing to do to­day?” they asked, emp­ty­ing cup­boards and spilling toys and glit­ter pots across the floor. Amelia, 36, burst into tears.

Mark’s work com­mit­ments meant that they’d taken their trip alone to see rel­a­tives in the UK for the sum­mer holidays. It had been great to visit ev­ery­one but they’d all slept in the same room at her sis­ter’s house and af­ter four weeks liv­ing in a cramped home and out of suit­cases, Amelia had been des­per­ate to get home. Only she now faced more than three weeks of the scorch­ing sum­mer holidays stretch­ing out in front of her, where she’d have to keep Mad­die and Ben en­ter­tained at their Jumeirah home.

Mark, 38, would be at work all day and their live-in nanny still wasn’t back from her month-long trip home to the Philip­pines.

“I stood in front of the wash­ing ma­chine and just couldn’t stop cry­ing,” Amelia ad­mits. “I love my kids, but I couldn’t imag­ine how I was go­ing to get through the rest of the break with them.” Amelia isn’t

alone. A 2012 UK sur­vey re­vealed that four in 10 mums dread the school holidays, and spend the whole time wish­ing the days away. Work­ing moth­ers face a com­pli­cated childcare jug­gling act and the guilt that they can’t be with their kids, while oth­ers have been jump­ing through some very ex­pen­sive hoops to keep their chil­dren en­ter­tained.

If, like Amelia, families take a hol­i­day abroad, they are faced with a stress­ful plane jour­ney and a dis­rup­tion to kids’ rou­tines, which can be more than chal­leng­ing.

“Mad­die didn’t sleep a wink on the plane and I had to deal with plenty of eye rolling from other pas­sen­gers as she fid­geted around,” Amelia ad­mits. “In the UK, we were all jet­lagged, bunked to­gether in the same bed­room. The rest of the time the kids were over ex­cited and out of con­trol.”

Back in Dubai, Amelia phoned other mums to set up play dates and dis­cov­ered that many were still away. “I’d never felt more alone,” she ad­mits. “I hadn’t re­alised just how much I re­lied on school, the nanny, or their term time clubs to help to take the strain.”

It’s still a taboo for mums to ad­mit that a long sum­mer hol­i­day with their chil­dren is a chal­lenge. Amelia ad­mits that be­fore the holidays started she and a lot of her friends were look­ing for­ward to the up­com­ing break, for­get­ting that it doesn’t all go smoothly.

“I couldn’t wait for a lie in dur­ing the week and not having to pre­pare school lunches or deal with the traf­fic on the school run,” she says. “I thought I was lucky go­ing away as I didn’t need to worry about sum­mer camps, or the heat.”

An ed­i­tor of a pop­u­lar UAE web­site re­veals that their sum­mer camp page is the most viewed dur­ing the school break, with mums ask­ing lots of ques­tions about sport camps, mu­sic tu­tors and lessons. Par­ents are try­ing des­per­ately to fill the end­less free time – while avoid­ing re­veal­ing they can’t cope.

“Half­way through the holidays, there are mums say­ing they can’t wait for school to start again but they wouldn’t out­right ad­mit they’re strug­gling,” the ed­i­tor ad­mits.

She goes on to say that Dubai mums are no dif­fer­ent to those all around the world and they want to give their chil­dren the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence as much as they can.

“There are lots of op­tions for chil­dren in Dubai, with play ar­eas,

‘Half­way through the holidays there are mums say­ing they can’t wait for school to start again’

sum­mer camps and ac­tiv­i­ties such as go-kart­ing, rock climb­ing and ice skat­ing,” the ed­i­tor says. “Many have the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend up to four dif­fer­ent sum­mer camps, and ben­e­fit from be­ing able to go ski­ing one day, and spend the next on the beach.”

But along with all th­ese op­por­tu­ni­ties, and the ex­pense, mums are feel­ing the pres­sure of pro­vid­ing top-class en­ter­tain­ment for their kids. Full-time mum of two, Tara, cer­tainly does. Her sons, Ge­orge, 10, and Mo, six, are also quick to tell her they need to pack in the fun dur­ing the school break. “When my boys go back to school, their teach­ers always make them stand up in class and share their sto­ries from the holidays,” Tara, 41, of Al Bar­sha, ex­plains.

“It’s sup­posed to be a fun thing – but all through the sum­mer, they’re tal­ly­ing up what they’re do­ing like it’s a com­pe­ti­tion. I spend more money than I can af­ford mak­ing sure they have some­thing to say to make their friend’s jeal­ous.”

Dr Vanessa Bokanowski, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and psy­chother­a­pist (chil­dren and adults) at Well­be­ing Med­i­cal Cen­tre (www. well­be­ingmed­i­cal­cen­tre.com) ad­mits

that in an af­flu­ent so­ci­ety such as the UAE, there is a ten­dency to set stan­dards too high. Not ev­ery­one can take off for the en­tire sum­mer to some ex­otic lo­ca­tion.

“Ex­pen­sive sum­mer camps in for­eign lo­cales, fancy des­ti­na­tion holidays and lux­u­ries getaways are all fan­tas­tic but they shouldn’t be a means to com­pete with other moth­ers,” Dr Vanessa in­sists.

She says a cru­cial part of the sum­mer break is try­ing to get your chil­dren to un­der­stand the value of fam­ily time. “There will be points when time or fi­nan­cial con­straint will re­strict things you do. The sooner kids un­der­stand this, the bet­ter they will be able to cope when they grow up,” Dr Vanessa says.

Dur­ing term-time, Tara usu­ally fills the week­ends with day trips, know­ing by Sun­day she’ll get a break from the con­stant chat­ter and de­mands from the boys. Dur­ing the holidays, it’s end­less, and with the sear­ing heat of the sum­mer sun, she quickly loses her pa­tience.

Tara might be a lov­ing mum, but even she gets sick of see­ing tons of kids crammed into ev­ery café, restau­rant and at­trac­tion.

When Tara re­cently met some other mums for cof­fee, they only made her feel worse. “They told me their hol­i­day was amaz­ing and they

Dr Vanessa says the key is plan­ning ahead and get­ting your kids used to a quiet time. Ev­ery sec­ond doesn’t have to be filled with ac­tiv­i­ties. “Peace­ful read­ing ses­sions or do­ing short bursts of school-based ac­tiv­i­ties will keep their minds sharp while en­sur­ing that they aren’t con­stantly over-stim­u­lated.

“Bore­dom and spend­ing time on their own are es­sen­tial life skills. The sooner kids learn to un­der­stand this, the eas­ier they’ll ad­just to adult life,” she ex­plains.

Mum Tara is con­vinced that her usu­ally well-be­haved sons be­come feral dur­ing the holidays. “Usu­ally they’ll eat meals nicely and play well to­gether but I spend most of the holidays yelling at them and scrub­bing the floor where they’ve thrown food,” she says. “They’re like dif­fer­ent kids.” That’s be­cause dur­ing the hol­i­day, chil­dren’s rou­tines are dis­rupted. They’re stay­ing up late, eat­ing more un­healthy op­tions and of­ten spend­ing more time in front of the TV and com­puter. This is go­ing to change your child’s usual behaviour.

Spe­cial­ist Pae­di­a­tri­cian Dr Delia Fayyad, from the Well-be­ing Med­i­cal Cen­tre, says you just have to adapt.

“Chil­dren too, need a break from a hec­tic school sched­ule just like adults need a break from work,” Dr Vanessa ex­plains. “While school is the source of learn­ing and devel­op­ment that all chil­dren need, it can of­ten be a stress­ful place too. School breaks are a great way for chil­dren to en­gage with their par­ents and sib­lings.”

Dr Delia says school breaks are an es­sen­tial time for all the fam­ily. “A hol­i­day is a mem­ory. And child­hood mem­o­ries are an es­sen­tial part of ev­ery­one’s grow­ing years. Those days spent with mom and dad, away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of daily life, help chil­dren forge a deep bond with their families, which is ever more im­por­tant in a day and age when we have to con­stantly com­pete with a gad­get or gizmo for the at­ten­tion of our loved ones,” she says.

“I can­not em­pha­sise enough how im­por­tant this down­time is for the men­tal and phys­i­cal health of the en­tire fam­ily unit.”

But it’s OK to look for­ward to an end to this down­time, says the ed­i­tor of a UAE web­site. It’s nor­mal for moth­ers to long for a re­turn to school, a re­turn to nor­mal­ity, es­pe­cially af­ter a long break. Moth­ers who ex­pe­ri­ence th­ese feel­ings should know that they are not alone and there is no need to feel guilty, she says.

“It’s only nat­u­ral that adults want to re­turn to their own rou­tines, and school pro­vides a safe en­vi­ron­ment that is es­sen­tial for the growth and learn­ing for their chil­dren.”

Mum Amelia re­cently con­fided in a friend that she had a count­down on her com­puter for the start of the new term and she was amazed at the re­sponse. “She said she felt ex­actly the same way and it made me feel so much bet­ter!” Amelia ex­plains.

“When the next school break comes round, I’m go­ing to be a lot more hon­est, and ad­mit to more mums that I’m at my wits’ end. I think I’ll be sur­prised how many of them will say ‘me too’.”

‘Bore­dom and spend­ing time on their own are es­sen­tial life skills to help kids ad­just to adult life’

were dread­ing get­ting back to the school gates,” Tara says. “I couldn’t help but be an­gry at their smug at­ti­tude and dev­as­tated that I was ob­vi­ously such a ter­ri­ble mum. I cer­tainly wasn’t rel­ish­ing spend­ing 100 per cent of my time with the boys – but there was no way I was telling them that.”

Iron­i­cally while moth­ers are run­ning them­selves ragged to make kids happy they could be risk­ing their own health and well-be­ing. “The mul­ti­ple roles a mother has to play can be very chal­leng­ing,” Dr Vanessa ad­mits. “They like to dis­play a public im­age of be­ing the per­fect mother, ca­pa­ble of bal­anc­ing ev­ery­thing.

“This can leave mums ex­hausted and burnt out. It’s im­por­tant they un­der­stand that in or­der to pro­vide their families with the best, they need time for them­selves.”

Too much time to­gether can lead to tension

Tears and tantrums can test mum’s tem­per

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