Back-to-school reality for mums and dads

In the first of a weekly series, Emma Haughton focuses on a familiar January nightmare: getting back into a routine after the excitement of Christmas. Strangely, she discovers, the return to normality is worse for parents ...

Returning to work after a long break is never easy; factor in the angst of getting children back into the swing of school or child care, and it's not just the leftover turkey that's giving you indigestion on Sunday night. The problem with holidays is that they plunge us into an unreal and seductive world of leisure and lack of routine; without the pressure of deadlines and work commitments we tend to wind down, mentally and physically, and getting ourselves back into gear again involves a shock to everyone's system.

"Over Christmas we started to wake up later and later," admits Julie, a teacher with two daughters aged seven and five. "On Sunday at 9am everyone was still fast asleep, so on Monday when we set the alarm to get up at 7am, it felt like the middle of the night. It was hard to believe that two weeks ago we were waking up at that time completely naturally."

But oversleeping can be the least of your problems.

"On Monday I had to get up in the pitch dark with sheets of rain coming down, get the car out, drive Billy to nursery, find a free parking meter, wade through the puddles and settle him in," says Julia, an advertising executive, whose son is four. "Then I had to reverse the whole journey, find somewhere to park again miles down our street, and clear the car out out for my partner, before even starting the hour-and-a-quarter commute to work. It was grim, absolutely gruelling, and only tempered by a sense of relief that we were at least getting back to reality."

Julia copes by being meticulously organised. "I tidy the house, put clothes out the night before, arrange an easy supper, get my briefcase sorted out, find my house keys, travel card and security pass, even recharge my mobile phone battery. I just couldn't do it otherwise." She also puts Billy back into nursery for a few hours a couple of days before she's due back at work. "It eases him back into it gently, and gives me a bit of free time to sort things out."

But it's not just the practical preparation that need attention; according to Sue Johnson, who has worked as a childminder in Enfield for the last 20 years. It is often the emotional side of returning to normality that is more troublesome. "The children rarely have a problem coming back," she says, "They're often rather glad to return to their friends and daily routine. Although it can take a couple of days to get back into the way we do things here, children are very adaptable and rarely find it a problem."

She finds it's the parents who experience the most difficulties. "The time they spend with with their children during the holidays is extremely important, and coming back they face the whole guilt trip again about leaving their children." Many need extra reassurance that no one can replace their relationship with their child. "Some are quite reluctant to leave on that first morning. They cling to their children instead of just putting them down. It can be quite hurtful if a child just gets down and gets on with it, so they linger, because the longer they stay, the more chance they have of getting a negative reaction that in some ways actually makes them feel better."

But Johnson stresses the importance of looking at the situation from the child's point of view. Let them know during the holiday when they're going back, so it's not a shock on Monday morning, she advises, and make the separation as quick and clean as possible so as not to confuse the child.

And while nothing will take the sting out of the first day back, there are various ways you can raise everybody's spirits. Lisa Santry, a nanny from Dulwich in south London, suggests arranging a treat, such as a meal or trip to the cinema, at the end of the day - or a day out somewhere special the following weekend. When grey skies and dull routines are all we can see on the horizon, we all need to make sure there is something to look forward to besides the next holiday.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas