How do working moms handle spring break?

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For students, spring break is a week of freedom that makes the long stretch between winter break and summer vacation. If you’re a student’s parent, however, spring break can also be a week-long headache that forces you to overhaul your daily routine.

For a working parent, spring break can be burdensome because it involves finding some form of child care for the blissfully vacationing student. Unless your child is old enough to take care of himself or herself, you have a few options: Find a sitter, find a week-long camp, bring the children to work or take the week off. Therefore most of your options either cost you money or time.

If you’re a working mother, your situation is probably even more difficult. According to the latest American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women spend more time handling child care issues — and overall household responsibilities — than their spouses do. And single mothers shoulder all of the responsibility. (We’re not discounting the contribution of fathers, especially single fathers who also carry the weight of their households, but statistics show that mothers remain the primary caretakers for their children, even when both parents work outside the home.)

That’s why, for one week each spring, children are enjoying their freedom while moms are counting down the days until everything is back to normal.

The dilemma

“Spring Break is a challenge,” says Jennifer James, a self-employed public relations practitioner in Oklahoma City. “I always want to be that family that plans three months ahead and takes a memorable trip, but more often than not I have to work through it. Most years, I put my kids in art camps at the local museum or art center.”

Although these camps cost money, they allow James and other working mothers to fulfill their business obligations. This year she gets to enjoy the time off, as her mother will care for the children for half of the week and James will take the other days off. Still, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t wish they were all somewhere else for the week.

“I always wish we were on the beach, but it just seems so unrealistic, especially with summer vacation just around the corner.”

James isn’t alone in thinking about the full calendar year, either. Other working moms were quick to point out that this is a one-week dilemma they face every year, but summer vacation is a three-month ordeal requiring even more attention. Lisa Oakley, business owner and mother of two children, ages six and eight, faces the issue every year.

“It is definitely a source of constant stress for me. As a business owner I can’t simply walk away every time my kids are out of school. Yet, as a mom, it’s really agonizing not to be home with them. I try to mix up the time between camp, staying home and bringing them with me to work,” Oakley says. “Even though this is not a new issue for me, I find that I am hit again with the accompanying emotions each time.”

Oakley says that, while her husband is an involved father for their children, he earns more and therefore she is expected to take days off of cut back on hours when necessarily. She wonders what long-term affects these decisions have on her career, but she also admits that time with her children is worth the sacrifice.

Plan, plan, plan

The fun (read: chaos) of motherhood is that no matter how much you plan ahead, life will throw you off course. Working mother Ellen Huxtable never relies on a single plan for that reason. She first looks at the school calendar and works out her schedule in advance — at least as much as possible.

“When planning projects and meetings, I try to schedule things so they don’t fall during vacation periods,” Huxtable says. “If there is a problem with my arranged childcare and I have no choice but to miss a day of work, at least I won’t be missing a major deadline or meeting.”

Still, she has a backup plan in case a day off isn’t possible.

“This is less critical if you have commercial outside childcare, but if you’re relying on friends and family, it’s good to have a plan B and plan C alternative on alert. These might be other moms you know and trust, who would not be able to take care of your children consistently, but could help out in an emergency.”

Even friends and family who regularly watch your children aren’t available seven days a week. For other moms, like Rebecca Heery, her children’s vacations are a mix of resources.

“I have two children with two different spring break dates. My youngest is in the middle of hers at the moment and my oldest has hers in April. They have never had coinciding spring breaks so I put my parents on notice every year that they are responsible for their grandkids during spring break,” says Heery, the director of marketing for Georgia Reproductive Specialists.

In her family, the grandparents don’t visit for the traditional winter holiday season. Instead, her children visit their grandparents in Texas and South Carolina. These annual family vacations allow her and her husband to do their jobs, and she’s grateful for them.

Meanwhile, Nichole Mann, who has several part-time jobs and two children, has too coordinate several schedules every year when spring break rolls around. Her husband works weekend but she doesn’t, so that they only have to turn to family and friends on for any days that they aren’t able to take the day off.

“I’m luckier than most moms in my area [Cincinnati],” Mann says. “Child care here is expensive and dominated by small home care operations that are hard to get into.”

And for other mothers whose jobs and finances allow, a week off for students means a week off for moms.

“As a single mom with a professional development and training firm that employs several other single moms in the Atlanta area, I actually now schedule our classes and client appointments around those breaks,” says Lisa T. Richardson of Academic & Technology Solutions. “It also forces me to take some time off when I otherwise might not. I look forward to spring break as much as the kids do.”

Considering how much energy it takes just to plan for their children’s spring break, all working moms could probably use a vacation once school is back in session.

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