Juggling Act: Mastering the Tightrope of Work Leave and School Holidays


I want to propose a meeting between schools and industry. I only have ONE agenda point: Holidays.

As a working parent, I am fairly certain I am not the only one finding myself caught in the crossfire of limited leave days and the never-ending school breaks. The ideal solution still seems to elude me so I thought if I break it down, I might find the answer I am looking for.

Leave Days and School Holidays – A Mathematical Conundrum?

Let’s get down to the numbers. The average workplace offers 15 – 22 leave days per year, while school holidays (at least in South Africa) span around 65 days. That’s more than two full months of leave that no workplace I know of provides. Talk about a serious gap! And while holiday care seems like the solution, it also has its limitations. Typically, it covers only 20 days, leaving 45 days unaccounted for. Now, unless you have an army of grandparents at your disposal, or deep pockets full of savings to cover extra nannies and au pairs, finding a balance becomes a monumental challenge. Trust me, I’ve done the math, and my leave days vanish quicker than a box of cookies at a kids’ party.

The Vicious Cycle of Work-Life “Balance”

Ah, work-life balance, the elusive unicorn we all chase. As a working mom and an entrepreneur leading a team, I understand the impact of an absent team member on productivity. However, I stand firm on the importance of addressing this issue. In an effective team, the absence of one member should be shared among the entire team, fostering collaboration and cohesion. Unfortunately, in a dog-eat-dog world, this is not always the case. The lack of support and understanding in many workplaces exacerbates the intensity of the absence felt when school holidays roll around. It’s a battle of trying to find harmony between work and personal life, which often feels like searching for Bigfoot. Does this mythical balance even exist? I wonder how other parents handle this seemingly impossible feat.

The Guilt and Struggles of a Working Parent

Let’s talk about guilt, shall we? Forgetting Ocean Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or even slipper day at school is not uncommon for frazzled working parents like me. Just last week my kids rocked up at school in bright purple and pink outfits on Ocean Day, with a reminder from the teacher the same morning to dress in blue. Yeah … I missed that one. Juggling drop-offs, pick-ups, and work responsibilities sometimes results in forgotten memos and a hefty serving of parental guilt. We’ve all been there, right? And don’t even get me started on those video meetings when your tired face triggers comments about your “sick” appearance. Thanks, no makeup could fix that! The pressure to excel at work while being a superhero parent is real. And yes, I am fully aware that this was my own personal choice. I just didn’t quite comprehend the consequences beforehand, and am still, a couple of years in, trying to figure it out.

Finding a Solution?

But let’s not place blame solely on schools or the workplace. Both have their own challenges and obligations. But understanding is key. Working parents, especially working moms, need support and flexibility to navigate the delicate balance between career aspirations and parental duties. Maybe we don’t need more leave days or additional holidays, but rather a system that acknowledges the realities we face. A system that recognises that sometimes we give 70% today because our child was sick last night, but tomorrow we’ll be back, giving 150% and rocking it at work. A little empathy goes a long way in creating a positive work environment for working parents.

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps what we need is a little understanding and compassion. Working parents, and specifically working moms, already have two full-time jobs on their plates. We’re doing our best to keep it together, even on those days when we feel like we’re falling apart. So, let’s be kind and supportive as we navigate this challenging journey.

Perhaps just Understanding would do right now

To the schools out there, let’s not forget the world outside the classroom walls. While your primary focus is on nurturing young minds, acknowledging the struggles faced by working parents can make a significant difference. Perhaps even reconsidering additional holiday care during school holidays could help alleviate some of the challenges parents face.

On the other hand, businesses can play their part too. Providing flexible working arrangements, such as remote work options or compressed workweeks, can give parents the breathing room they need. Companies that prioritise employee well-being and family-friendly policies often reap the benefits of increased loyalty, productivity, and employee satisfaction. I can 100% vouch for this.

Ultimately, finding a balance between work and parenthood is an ongoing journey. There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but by creating an environment that supports and understands the challenges faced by working parents, we can make strides towards a more harmonious and productive future.

And maybe next year I will also remember Ocean Day 🙂

-Liz Füzy

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