Each holiday season, Megan Vargha prepares for the onslaught of photos that her husband will text her between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Inevitably, as the Cheltenham native goes about her day-to-day work in the sales department of Kindred Healthcare, her phone will ping with pictures of her children at the Please Touch Museum or the Adventure Aquarium, or with candid shots of them hanging out with their father, Josh, a Philadelphia teacher who gets a holiday break, just like his kids do from day care.
“He’s going to send photos all day," Vargha said, “and it’s going to be heartbreaking that I’m not there making those memories with them.”
For some families, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day provides a rejuvenating respite from the frantic pace of the school year. But for others, particularly those in which one or both parents have full-time jobs, their children’s holiday breaks can cause headaches. How will they occupy rambunctious kids? Who can watch their children while they are at work? And if they don’t have family in the area, how much will child care cost over the holidays?
Nationally, both parents were employed in about 62 percent of married-couple families in 2017, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics population survey.
Some companies, of course, close between Christmas and New Year’s Day, allow staff to work from home, or let more senior employees take that week off as vacation. But about 84 percent of offices across the country remain open during that time, according to a 2017 Society for Human Resource Management survey.
Locally, townships and private organizations have capitalized on working parents' child care bind, with many offering an array of holiday-break classes and camps that can run upward of $100 a day per child.
Vargha, for one, said she knows she is fortunate that her husband has off from work that week and that she has family in the area. But she still stresses about navigating that period, figuring out how to make it a special time for daughter Maggie, 18 months, and son Sam, 4 months, while juggling work responsibilities.
“Like most things in parenting, you can’t really comprehend it until you’re in the thick of it,” Vargha said.
For Havertown’s Megan O’Neill, a nutritionist and personal trainer, the holiday break is one of her busiest times.
“It does become stressful as a working mom,” O’Neill said. “We don’t want to pay a babysitter every day.”
Since her husband, a lawyer, can’t get much time off either, O’Neill and her friends organize play dates for their children, coordinating with the days some parents have to work and others don’t. On a couple of days, her sons, Ryan, 10, and Justin, 6, go to holiday break camps organized by Haverford Township. They have especially enjoyed the tennis and cooking programs, she said.
O’Neill also makes sure to schedule family time, even if that means a small decrease in her paycheck. In her job, there is no such thing as paid time off. But she chooses not to schedule clients on Christmas Eve and to begin her work day at 2 p.m. on Dec. 26.
That way, she can take part in her family’s Christmas Eve tradition. Each year, they take the train to Center City, O’Neill said, and enjoy the Macy’s Light Show, the Christmas Village in LOVE Park, and other holiday attractions as a family.
“That’s really important to me,” O’Neill said. “I’m in love with Christmas.”
In Drexel Hill, Matt Gutberlet can relate to the annual juggling act. He and his wife, Grace, both work full-time — he as a software manager and she as a financial forecaster.
“We’re not exactly swimming in professional flexibility,” Gutberlet said. “But the flexibility we have, we are fortunate to have.”
The couple are both able to take off Dec. 26 and New Year’s Eve so they can spend time with their kids. If either of them is able to work from home another day, they take advantage, putting on a movie for the children, Matty, 6, and Sophie, 8, and hoping they stay occupied.
On days he and his wife go in to work, they send the kids to their grandparents’ house —“Having grandparents local is an absolute godsend,” he said — or to holiday-break camps. He said his children have enjoyed the one at Marple Sports Arena, which employees said costs $45 a day and runs from Dec. 26 to 31.