The countdown is on, it won’t be long before the final school bell of the term rings out across the yard and children race out the door for their much-anticipated summer holidays.
Parents will also be breathing a sigh of relief, as the seemingly never-ending merry-go-round of early-morning chaos followed by busy afternoons filled with homework and extra-curricular activities is put on hold for a couple of months.
But once the initial joy of waking without an alarm clock has worn off, another stress begins to worm its way into weary parents’ minds —how will the kids keep themselves amused for eight long weeks without tearing the house asunder?
Niamh Daly says this is one of her “biggest fears” as, in her own words, she is “extremely houseproud”. Having her three daughters at home during the summer months always “ends in tears” with her getting angry with them for creating a mess.
The truth is that if you have young children and your house is immaculate, it is more likely that the cleanliness is created at the expense of the children’s fun as they benefit more from making a mess than living in perfect splendour— Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist
“I actually dread the girls (aged five to 11) being off for the summer as when they are at school, I can keep the house tidy and know that if I have hoovered and polished a room, it will stay in that condition for at least the rest of the day,” she says. “I like things to look good and I get so much pleasure from having a tidy and stylish house — but of course, children and neatness don’t really go together. So each year, I have tried to get them to as many summer camps as possible, which was a nightmare for the past two years as there weren’t any on, to keep them occupied and out of the house.
“My husband, John, and I argue about it all the time as he thinks they should be allowed to make a mess and feel comfortable at home, but he’s out at work all day, so it doesn’t even bother him. They have a playroom [in] which they can do what they want, provided they tidy up afterwards, so I don’t really see why their mess needs to spill out into the rest of the house. This is how I was brought up and it didn’t do me any harm — so I don’t think having some respect for your home is a bad lesson for children to learn.”
Ciara Treacy has four children (aged 10 to 18). Their father, Blaise, works abroad and she says that while back-to-back summer camps seem like a great idea when it comes to keeping children amused during the holidays, it can mean no room for spontaneity. So the ideal solution she found was to ensure there was plenty for the children to occupy themselves with at home.
“My advice to other parents would be to fill a box or cupboard with items from the green bin [recyclables] and always have child-friendly glue and poster paints at hand,” she says. “During the summer you don’t need to destroy your house if you have outdoor space — but I also deposited my kids in front of the TV for precious time in the morning when my energy was high as otherwise no housework would be done — but I think we all need to be forgiving of ourselves as Instagram and its photos of perfect houses is a lie.”
You could add a chalkboard or blackboard wall to your playroom or even your kitchen as when the kids are small they can use it for doodles and scribbles— Sarah Petersen, Interior designer
Stella O’Malley, psychotherapist, writer and public speaker, agrees and says parents should worry less about keeping the house tidy and more about ensuring their children get plenty of outdoor fun.
“We live in a world of Instagram which gives us pressurising messages that our houses should be beautiful,” she says. “The truth is that if you have young children and your house is immaculate, it is more likely that the cleanliness is created at the expense of the children’s fun as they benefit more from making a mess than living in perfect splendour. This can be stressful for parents who are proud of their house and so this is one of the many reasons why children should be encouraged to play outside as much as possible.
“If the children can be sent out to play they are more likely to be active, more likely to have fun and less likely to mess up the house.”
Interior designer Sarah Petersen says having a contented family and a stunning home are not mutually exclusive and with a bit of planning you can easily enjoy both.
“The best way to create a beautiful home which is child friendly, is storage, storage, storage,” she says. “What starts out as a toy storage in a shared space can become a great place to store board games or video games as the children get older. Also making their bedrooms a haven for hanging out when they get a bit older means that they will use the space more efficiently — so storage for books, a space to read, a place to study and somewhere for clothes are a top priority and some funky lighting can create a cosy place they will want to hang out in. Space planning and layout are key to maximising the use of each room.
“And, if you have young children, it is wise to use low VOC [Volatile Organic Compounds] or no VOC paints to reduce any emissions in their bedrooms because as newer homes are completely airtight, it is important that the paint we use is environmentally friendly and safe.”
Tt’s important to create your own sanctuary as during the summer months it probably feels like the kids will take over every corner of the house,— Máire Hennessy O’Connor, Interior designer
The design expert says rounded furniture can help to avoid cuts and bruises, so bear in mind if planning on buying any new pieces. And instead of worrying about how much mess will be made during the summer holidays, invest in a few washable soft furnishings as well as some creative pieces which can be used by all the family.
“Washable rugs, and throws, are great for bringing colour and texture to a space without worrying about spillages or damage,” she says. “They are usually made of a durable material or one which can be thrown in the washing machine to bring it back to new again.
“Also, I think storage Ottomans are great if you don’t have the scope for a full built-in unit or window seat in your home — you can get them in all shapes, colours or sizes and not only are they great for storing toys and board games, but they also act as a footstool or somewhere to pop a tray on to.
“And you could add a chalkboard or blackboard wall to your playroom or even your kitchen as when the kids are small they can use it for doodles and scribbles, but as they get older, it becomes a great family notice board which makes it dual purpose.”
Think about yourself
Interior designer Máire Hennessy O’Connor agrees and says keeping the children busy and out of doors as much as possible is probably the best way to keep your house looking great over the summer holidays, but it is also a good idea to let them in on the act.
“At the end of school term, children will bring home folders filled with art, so why not take the time to choose a wall space and a couple of nice frames and get hanging some original, local art to dress your walls,” she says. “You could also set a goal to redecorate a small area of the house yourself, along with the help of the kids — so whether it’s a clearout of the garage, reorganising the spare room or a quick lick of paint somewhere, get all the family involved and make it fun.
“Try to get outside as much as possible — camping in the garden is a novelty for kids so if you can get your hands on a couple of small tents, you can make it a fun experience. And while you’re out there, try giving your patio a fresh new look with an outdoor rug. There is an abundance of them online to suit all budgets and they are easy to keep clean too.
“But it’s important to create your own sanctuary as during the summer months it probably feels like the kids will take over every corner of the house, so don’t forget about yourself. Try to reserve a small space for yourself which is out of kids reach during the day with some nice plants and candles — a clean, tidy space to sit yourself and relax in the evening, with a book or glass of something nice — imagining you are in a far off land.”