13 Jan 2024

Emily Writes: a working parent doing her best during the holidays

From The Weekend , 10:48 am on 13 January 2024
Author and blogger Emily Writes.

Author and blogger Emily Writes. Photo: Supplied

For parents who only have a week or two off work over summer, it's hard seeing pictures of other people's kids "smiling from ear to ear" on sunny beaches, says Emily Writes.

The Wellington writer and mother-of-two reminds herself that social media posts and the reality of parenting are often separate things.

"On a holiday, you're just parenting in a new environment and it's just as full on … What helps me is just [reminding myself that] they're trying to get the kids to sleep in a very hot environment and their child's going 'No, I'm too hot' and they have sunburn and rashes. And I'm in an air-conditioned office. That's what I tell myself, anyway," she tells The Weekend.

You can read more from Emily Writes on The Spinoff and she also has a weekly newsletter on Substack.  She hosts The Courage Club –​ a podcast for parents of disabled and neuro-divergent children.

Many parents put themselves under a lot of pressure to "endlessly entertain" their children, Emily says.

"When I was a kid, we just went to Nana and Pops for the whole school holidays, and Nana and Pop would make you sandwiches at lunchtime but the rest of the time you were just kind of running around."

As a parent who works from home, Emily sometimes feels guilty when her two sons (9 and 11) want her to get off the computer but reminds herself kids always want more time with their parents and that's actually a good thing.

"When your kids are younger, the fact that they want more time with you and the fact that they can't have it is just the way it is."

"I just say to my kids 'I'll be back with you as soon as I can' and I really try and let go of the mum guilt … I try and focus on the fact that they do want to hang out with me.

"It's really about saying to yourself, every day, I'm doing the best that I can. We live in a capitalist society, we can't do anything about that. We're just sort of living in it and parent guilt isn't going to change that. So try and let go of the guilt if you can, though I know that's easier said than done."

Although screen time – often viewed as kids being "zombied" out in front of the TV or playing games like Roblox and Minecraft –  gets a very bad rap, Emily says she's a big fan.

When getting on a Zoom call, she assigns her sons "little projects" to complete which involve online research (of a certain country or subject, like the ocean) and then making a PowerPoint presentation.

"I then have to watch the PowerPoint presentations, which are sometimes very long."

Setting her kids up with little tasks or projects to complete is something Emily finds helpful while she's working.

"Like here is paper, you're going to make a kite and we're going to take that to the protests to vigil for Palestinian children. Or I want you to read this book and then tell me what you think about it.

"Recently we did 'I want you to watch The Baby-sitters Club TV show and critique whether it's like the book'."

When her kids make summer holiday requests that she can't fulfil, Emily is upfront with them about the family's financial reality.

"We've had to just be really honest with our kids about we're working hard to be able to pay rent and to make sure there's food on the table and we still luckier than a lot of families, but we don't have the ability right now to go on long trips.

"We're just really honest with the kids about ... we just can't afford that. I think that's important to just be open with kids and have an appreciation [that] we're lucky to be able to do what we can.'

This summer, Emily has created a "village" with other friends who have kids and they're taking turns having each other's kids for the day.

"That brings costs down so we're not doing school holiday programmes but also playdates are so much easier, when your kid has somebody to play with you can chuck them outside with the hose on. It's a lot easier having a playdate than just having your child alone wanting to play Fortnight all day."

"Little holidays" – in the form of a couple of nights away at a friend's place – can be refreshing for families that can't afford big holidays or time off work, she says.

"We've actually found that ringing up a friend and saying 'Hey, can we come and stay with you for two nights?', if they live up the coast, our kids have loved that. And if you ask my son right now what are you doing for your school holidays? He'd say 'I'm on holiday' because he's in the RNZ studio and that's a holiday for him, a new environment."

Emily Writes on RNZ:

The Courage Club (Nine to Noon)

Embracing 'goblin mode' (Sunday Morning)

Being an adult about raising children (Saturday Morning)

Is It Bedtime Yet?: a collection of true parenting stories (Sunday Morning)