Channel your inner 1960s mom
Winter break. It sounds so lovely. Hot chocolate by the fire. Children frolicking in the snow. Snowmen with little coal eyes. But somehow, that is never how it turns out.
Here is the scene at my house: Two kids in an apartment that is in complete disarray and one Solo Mom who needs to go to work. The kids are bored, and the house is still a mess. I’ve probably tossed out the tree, but the new toys haven’t found a home. (One year we ended up tossing the old Christmas tree out of the window of my third-floor apartment, which I am pretty sure is illegal in New York.) Living in New York, it is also usually bitter cold.
So there you have it. How can you make it work?
Pick the right inspiration
This is no time to be a helicopter parent. Your child can be enriched another day. You need to focus on survival. It is time to channel your inner 1960s mom. I didn’t say channel your inner 1950s mom. I am not suggesting that you bake cookies and serve well-balanced meals, although you can if you want to. No, I am suggesting you channel the mom who sent the children out to play while drinking Tab and smoking cigarettes. Of course, you will be working and not playing bridge, but the concept is the same.
At least once a day, send them outside
Children who are not exercised will destroy your house and your will to live. Get them outside. Ideally, without you. Bundle them up and give them a task, such as shoveling the sidewalk. Or just tell them that they can’t come back inside for an hour. If your children are very little or you live in an unsafe neighborhood, you may have to go out with them. Do it if you have to, but first stop and think: Will they really be in danger, or am I just making this difficult for myself? In my experience, children often don’t want to go out at first but end up having a great time when they do. Even if they don’t enjoy the bracing cold, they often are in a better mood when they get home.
Don’t be ashamed of TV dinners
Most of us don’t actually eat TV dinners on TV trays anymore, but you can still steal the spirit of this idea. Go with easy meals: pizza, frozen dinners, hot dogs. Get the organic ones, if you must. But realize that lowering your nutritional standards for one week is not going to hurt anyone. And if they want to eat in front of the TV, let them. If you are worried about establishing a precedent, make it clear that this is just for winter break.
Speaking of TV . . .
Used sparingly, TV actually makes a wonderful babysitter. Any electronic device, particularly one that your kids usually have only limited time with, will do the trick. My grandmother used to set my uncle in his playpen in front of the TV for four hours every day while she cleaned the house. I’m not suggesting you do that, but a little electronic babysitting never hurt. When my younger son was around three years old, I used to bring him to work with me and have him sit under my desk watching a movie on my laptop—with headphones, of course—while I had meetings. He loved it. I was lucky. I have my own office and a tolerant workplace. But it is worth a shot.
Give your children to anyone who will take them
As a Solo Mom, you probably already know this, but your children’s friends can be a great resource. Swaps are ideal. Even a stay-at-home mom wants to get rid of her kids over winter break. If you have family in the area, try to get them involved. If you have an ex who will take the kids, make use of him or her. Give your children to anyone (safe) who will take them. Plan in advance.
Don’t rule out 16-year-old babysitters
Sometime between when I was a child and when I became an adult, people stopped using kids as babysitters. This is a big mistake, especially over winter break. After all, who has plenty of free time during winter break? Other students. When I was 10 years old, I used to babysit a toddler and a baby. We all lived. I personally wouldn’t hire such a young child, but a responsible teen is probably a safe bet. If you know a responsible younger child, you might see if that child can watch your children with another adult around, serving as a mother’s helper.
Themes are awesome
I’ve suggested ways to keep the kids occupied while you work, but it is also worth taking the time to make things fun. If you are going to spend a lot of time inside, choose a theme or a project. With little kids, you might have a “playing with apples” theme for the week. Older kids might want to work on puzzles or build something. It doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it gives the kids something to occupy their minds and hands.
In sum, no, it is not your imagination: winter break is society’s way of messing with working parents—and none more so than Solo Moms. The good news is that, unlike the holidays, expectations are low all around. Your kids are happy just to not be going to school. Other parents have given up even the pretense of judging one another. It is all about survival. Keep the kids alive and yourself employed. If you can do these two things, you win the hunger games of school vacations. Good luck.
Robin Rogers is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College, City University of New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her two boys.
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