Monday, June 4, 2018

After School Care and letting go of the guilt

My youngest child is now 9 years old. In Grade 4 at school, she is a happy student - loves going to school, has many friends, is doing well academically and enjoys the social aspects greatly.

Since she started in Prep in 2014, she has usually done 1-2 nights a week of after school care. In 2014, with her sisters who were then also at primary school, she went on Monday and Tuesday nights to accommodate my work schedule (I was at that time in a salaried office job). 2015 was a single night (Tuesdays) as I dropped to part time hours at work. In 2016, she only went on an ad hoc basis, as my freelance work needs dictated. In 2017, we booked a regular night each week (Thursdays) which gave me the capacity to have one longer day for meetings and client visits. This year, we started off just continuing the Thursdays, but starting from May, we also added in Tuesdays when I started a new project that requires one office day a week (which is Tuesday).

Unlike her older sisters, who tolerated after care but didn't love it, my 9 year old has always really enjoyed going along. We've been very lucky to have terrific co-ordinators of the after care program across the time that my kids have needed to use it, and the kids get a great mix of free play, activities, and guided games and learning. My youngest is a very social kid and she's really appreciated the extra play time with peers, and the fun of doing different things.

I have spent a lot of time feeling vaguely guilty about after care. Not so much the single night a week - even I, self-flagellator that I am, could not help but see that as an unequivocal good, for both her and my workload. Increasing to two nights caused me a bit of a pang, though, despite her excitement about it.

However, I had a bit of an epiphany last week. I had to travel to Adelaide for work for most of the week, and to accommodate her dad's work needs, she ended up going to after care for 4 of the 5 nights of the week (every day except Monday, when I was still in Melbourne). And guess what? She LOVED it. She was voted Student Leader for the week and had a magnificent time. She did crafts, games, cooking and science experiments. She consolidated friendships with kids she already liked, and met new friends. She had virtually no weekday screen time, and I am sure partly as a result, slept better than her usual wont.

I realised, finally, that I am not abrogating my parental duties by recognising that our week runs better (hers as well as mine) if she goes to after care and I have adequate time to do my work. It means that the time we get together is of much better quality, and more meaningful. We have paused her swimming lessons for 3 months, as we do every winter, so her only extracurricular activity at the moment is ukelele lessons (which she actually does at school, during lunchbreaks), so after care also fills a void very nicely for her in a way that causes zero extra stress for me when co-ordinating my increasingly demanding work schedule.

So we had a chat this morning, she and I, and we've agreed (to her delight) that from next term, she's going to be attending after care 3 days per week. Mondays, which is a fixed work at home day for me, we'll enjoy our walk home together with the dog and our Monday baking tradition. Fridays, I'll attend school assembly and we'll enjoy end-of-week downtime together. The other three days, she'll go to after care and have fun and I'll concentrate on getting full work days in so my life becomes more manageable.

I think this is going to end up being a good decision, for her and for me.

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