Real Life

Are our working lives getting in the way of the traditional Kiwi summer holiday?

Working parents have to make trade-offs, one of which is a summer holiday with their children or more time at the office. We let a Labour MP and writer decide if work is the true cause.
Working parents have to make trade-offs, one of which is a summer holiday with their children or more time at the office. We let a Labour MP and writer decide if work is the true cause.

YES: Jacinda Ardern, Labour List MP

There are probably few things in a child’s life that feel more tortuous than being told on Christmas morning that presents can’t be opened ’till Dad finishes his shift’. I remember sitting cross-legged in front of the tree, staring at the parcel with my name on it. That experience taught me two things: Firstly, that the mind is a powerful thing, but you can’t use it to bend spoons or open presents. And secondly, sometimes work comes first, and that’s not always fair.

When you’re a kid, the world is so beautifully black and white. If my parents were working and weren’t around, that was their choice right? My view of ‘choices’ and big decisions were a little different than those of an adult of course – while I was deciding whether I would trade my Hulk Hogan wrestling card for two of the Ultimate Warrior, Mum was trying to choose between a good job that allowed her to use her skills, and a low-paid one that meant she could be at home when we finished school.

I consider myself extremely lucky. Despite the odd interruption from shift work, and a couple of summer holidays that came to abrupt ends because of a big cases (the perils of being the child of a police detective), I have some great summer memories. Unfortunately having time to make those memories is becoming a luxury for an increasing number of Kiwis. It’s become a trade-off that many families are now being forced to make. In fact, a survey a while back found one in four parents have cut back on the time they spend with their children because of work.

Compared with other Western nations, New Zealanders aren’t well paid; our wages are low. We also know more and more people are taking up multiple jobs just so they can keep putting food on the table. My hope is we can find some solutions so fewer people have to make those trade-offs. After all, the mind is a powerful thing, right?

NO: Emma Clifton, NEXT sub-editor/writer

It’s very many years since I was a child – and I don’t intend to have children for a few years more – but that doesn’t mean I don’t suffer from end-of-termitis. It’s not just kids, and those with them, who get a little itchy towards the end of the year. In the lead-up to last Christmas, I remember thinking, ‘If I don’t go to a yoga class this week, I will quite possibly lose my mind.’

My point is, the summer holiday is the best part of the year. It is the carrot for this particular donkey, and the harder the working life, the sweeter the break. But much as I love the annual break, I’d argue that in general, it’s holidays that are getting in the way of our working lives. For instance, I never realised what a total pain-in-the-arse school holidays were for parents until I joined the world of women’s magazines and worked alongside – almost exclusively – women who work full-time while also raising families. Children are always on holiday. It is ridiculous. From an outsider’s perspective, the hardest thing about raising kids seems to be: the birth, school uniform prices, getting to and from after-school activities and the fact children appear to be on holiday every other fortnight.

As for the traditional Kiwi summer holiday, a lot of things are getting in the way. Climate change means the weather cannot be depended on. Lack of an ozone layer means when it is sunny, it’s not safe to be in the sun for more than 12 minutes. Everybody books holiday accommodation a year out, so you can’t afford to be spontaneous with travel plans. Traffic is always terrible, and don’t even get me started on the fresh hell that is overcrowded camping grounds.

But still, holidays at the end of the year are the adult equivalent to being a child and not getting your ice cream until you finish your vegetables. You have to earn your holidays – literally – and that’s what work is. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All play and no work makes Jack poor, pointless, and probably insufferable to be around.

Photographs by: Getty Images

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