Balancing time-off extremes

A parent and child at the beach.
A parent and child at the beach. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Nelson Almeida

My 8-year-old son, Lewis, is finally back to school after dozens of vacation days. But for adults in the United States, there’s no endless summer and no legal requirement for time off from work. In practice, most workers with five years of service receive 10 to 14 paid days off a year.

Resolving these two vacation extremes is at the center of much debate and angst among many working parents. Do you rely on the Boys & Girls Club, or choose a summer camp with enough themes and activities to make your head spin? Do you ship the kids to their grandparents, employ a babysitter or manage a combination of all of the above? There’s no easy way to plan the summer, and the planning can start a year in advance, and is exhausting and often pricey.

The relief felt by parents last week, however, was short-lived. School resumed, but after only a couple of days back, there’s a scheduled school holiday today, for Eid. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders how parents get any work done at all.

I grew up in Australia, where the summer holiday starts this year on Dec. 17 and wraps up 44 days later. Other vacations, such as mid-winter and spring breaks, are two weeks each, not the single weeks seen in the United States. When it all shakes out, Australian children have about 20 extra school days each year.

So, I have a proposal for what U.S. children can do with their extra 20 days: Give them to their parents. Gifting working parents time off would seem to be a no-brainer.

“Here, Mom, I would be quite happy with having two whole months off from school. The extra days are only causing me to forget my math and history,” your child says. “Also, my reading has reverted to back-of-the-cornflake box level.”

Then to clinch the deal: “You actually need this vacation more than I do, because as soon as school goes back you have to help me revisit everything I forgot during my long summer of learning loss.”

But would stressed-out parents even use their days off? Several studies have shown that Americans, in stark contrast with their European and Australian counterparts, don’t take most of their vacation time anyway.

A 2014 study by Oxford Economics, which provides economic forecasts, found that unused vacation days in the United States were at a 40-year high, accounting for $52.4 billion in lost benefits. That’s a nice gift that most workers are giving their employers.

Reasons include job insecurity, fear of coming back to a mountain of work and emails, and a work culture that generally frowns on taking time off.

Or, perhaps, is it just that those unending summers of the American childhood actually used up people’s lifetime allowance of vacation, without them realizing? Perhaps parents feel they don’t deserve what their children don’t appreciate?

If that’s the case, my redistribution plan needs to go into effect before the summer of 2017, for the sanity of the nation.

Caroline Jumpertz is a Brooklyn-

based writer.

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