The Agony of Summer

As a working mom, one of my most dreaded time of the year is Summer.  The school year is ending and the big question is what to do with the kids? Keeping them at home is one option, however, my phone would not stop ringing at work, I might as well be home as I will be playing referee over the phone all day and coming up with ideas daily to keep them out of trouble in the neighborhood.   The other option is summer camps, and this is the best one for me; although expensive, it works best as I know where they are, and I don’t have to worry about them being bored and doing something they are not supposed to.  Summer is the one time of the year when I regret not being a teacher!  They get to spend summers with their kids, oh, such luxury!

So , as the school year winds down, I start to look for Summer camps starting in March, believe it or not, the really good ones get filled up even before then, I usually end up on the waiting list of some.   I try to do a mix of educational and sports camps.   This year we are doing football, basketball, swimming, a sleep away christian camp, Spanish, and rock band.   It cost a whole lot to do these camps, but the alternative of the kids running around with nothing to do could end up costing a lot more, so I justify the cost with this rationale and move on.

Another summer wish I have is that the kids had grandparents that they could go and spend the summers with on a farm, that would be so nice.  As a matter of fact, that would be a really nice summer camp idea, someone could start a farm, and kids come and work it for the summer for minimum pay!  Of course the government would be getting them for child labor, but I am telling you, it would not be a bad idea.  I think the thirteen year olds should be able to start working, but they are viewed as minors and are not allowed.

Summer should not and does not have to be a time of misery for you, make sure you schedule some vacation time during this time.  I do take two weeks off from work and spend it with the kids doing fun activities.  This is usually the highlight of their and my summer.  So as we roll into another Summer, I look forward to the two weeks, and groan in misery about the other eight…..how about you?

Do you like summers as a working mom?  Does the three months give you a headache just thinking about it?  Share your thoughts.

 

 

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Why Won’t Americans Take Vacation?

I have been working now for over 20 years in the technology industry, and in every company that I have worked, people will complain that they don’t get enough time off, but still refuse to use the vacation times that are given.

When did the phenomenon begin?

Back in the eighties, it was said that the Japanese were hard working and that Americans were lazy.  I think this caused an industrial complex to develop in the USA, especially in the technology industry.   We resolved to do better, and catch up with the competition, and in doing so we created a work culture of not necessarily working smarter, but of working harder.  Engineers in American are now working themselves to death (known as Karoshi in Japan), similarly to what the Japanese did in the past.  Recognizing that there was a problem then, the Japanese government implemented a possible fix with the mandate of required time off work with pay.  So the Japanese are smarter yet again, realizing the value of family and time off work, and has left us stuck with the legacy of this unhealthy competition. Some might claim that our work culture has enabled us to have better standard of living, but this is debatable, and even if it did, at what cost to our families!

For a summary on how much vacation times are given in some countries including the USA, take a look at the site from a CNN special on the subject.

Our attitude towards vacation

If we compare Europeans and Japanese with Americans, there is a distinct difference in how personal time given by companies is viewed and used by employees.  I am now working for a company based in Europe, people there get roughly two times the amount of vacation times Americans get per year, and for the most part, they use every bit of this time to unwind and spend time with their families, they cannot even be reached when on vacation.  Compare that to how we use our time in America; at the end of the year, the companies I have worked for has to beg us Americans to take time off, some vacation times end up being rolled over and eventually paid out, and others are oftentimes lost.   Also, when Americans are on vacation, many still keep in touch with what’s happening in the office, still answering emails, and frequently checking into the office to see if they are needed.  There are many reasons Americans are afraid or hesitant to take a vacation, one of this is the fear of competition and another is uncertainty of the future due of the struggling economy thus the fragility of the labor market.
Bloomberg’s Businessweek magazine addressed the issue of our reluctance to vacation in the article, “Do Us A Favor Take A Vacation.” In the article, the argument for Americans to take a vacation is addressed.  Very interesting read, and mirrors most of what I am saying here.

Fear of Competition

The culture of layoffs in the nineties did not help; it has exacerbated the problem as now American workers are figuring that if they work harder, then they might not be chosen in the pack to be laid off when that time comes.  In addition to the fear of layoff, there is also the fear of being replaced by more savvy and lower paid worker.  As companies turn more and more to imported labor, bringing in  skilled foreign professionals into the country, workers are becoming more fearful of being replaced, and to ally this fear, they spend more time working harder with the hope that their value will be elevated.  This is not a healthy situation, and hopefully as the economy recovers, some of this fear will be reduced and people will get back to the point where they feel safe enough to stop and spend time outside of the office.

Looking to the future

As I think about what the future holds for us and our children, I don’t foresee any improvements in the near term as the job market gets more and more global each day. Workers here and elsewhere have to prove their worth, and the best way most people know how is to work harder. However, some newer and younger companies are beginning to realize that employee overwork is an issue, and that innovation cannot be driven in this climate, so they are giving employees incentives and time to be innovative, that is encouragement to be working smarter instead of harder. With this approach, although the job market is expanding, and there is more competition for available job, if employees are allowed to build their knowledge base even while working, if they are laid off, or have to change jobs for any numerous reasons, they could still be marketable since they will still have current skills that the market demands. If workers feel safe in their knowledge, chances are they will have a more relaxed attitude in knowing that they can recover from any job situation, and thus will tend to spend less time being overworked, and more time with family. Although the future is bleak, with the right company culture, changes can be made.

Finding balance yourself

There must be balance between work and life, we need to work hard to meet our obligations and fulfill the contract we entered into with our employers, yet we still need to step back from time to time, relax and enjoy our families. Let’s examine our motives for working long hours, and make sure, it’s not insecurities that’s driving us, but a genuine desire to be a contributor. In addition, If your job is one that does not encourage employees to be cross trained and be updated in the latest technology, instead of spending all the overtime in the office, invest in yourself, and get some external training to ensure your marketability, and thus improve yourself worth. In the end know where you are on the job and what your needs are for job satisfaction, rest and relaxation. There must be balance.
So if you fall into this category of the overworked, go use your time off, work to live, not live to work!

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Vacation Time — No more Hotels

Vacations can be stressful; the planning, packing, traveling, and keeping the kids together.  One of the biggest decision of the vacation is where to stay, choosing the right place to stay can make your vacation much easier and less stressful.

Making the decision to choose a hotel or private home is largely dependent on the number of people traveling and your desire for privacy.  We were staying in hotels until my family grew from 4 to 6, now it’s just too expensive to rent an hotel suite, and a rooms are too small, so we rent vacation homes, typically from sites such as VRBO.com or Homeaway.com.  I have found these to be much more convenient and cost effective now that my family has grown and the kids are older and bigger.  Some of the advantages of staying in a home rather than a hotel are:

  1. You don’t have to worry about the kids disturbing the neighbors in the next room
  2. Having a stove and refrigerator is convenient, and significantly reduces the cost of eating out
  3. Having more space is also a plus, as everyone can have a bedroom if you choose a place with the right space
  4. Entertainment is provided as the homes typically have foosball and pool tables, games such as Wii and Xbox and cable television.

Currently we are in Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains and are staying in a Chalet with 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.  We have chosen to share with another family, each of us paying $750.00 for 4 days.  This definitely beats the price of staying in a hotel.

Next time you decide to vacation with your family, take a look at this option, it will definitely make your life a lot easier!

 

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