It’s a cold Friday afternoon in February and our living room floor is flooded with socks, ski boots, helmets, and googles. My 4-year-old girl is riding around on her pink, wheeled suitcase filled with cuddly toys, beaded necklaces, and a plastic mermaid. We are getting ready for our very first family ski holiday together. I have a long list of things that I mustn’t forget considering all the things we’ve planned to do for the next 7 days: ski, swim, read, play football, and relax.

My son, who is already 6, seems to keep his excitement under control, but occasionally seeks clarification on a few important things: “Is there a water slide & splash at the hotel pool?” “If I go with you in the sauna, will I be allowed to eat ice cream afterwards?”

What I didn’t know about the School Holidays in Switzerland

One thing I didn’t know about Switzerland and its school system was that, every six weeks, kids have a two-week holiday! This means that most parents have to take leave too and figure out something exciting for those 14 days without school. If we were in Bulgaria, we could easily ask the grandparents to help at least for a week or so. But, here in Switzerland, we have absolutely no family support system.

A few months ago, we received a list of activities we could possibly sign our kids up for. All of them covered only one week of the holiday. Most of them were meant for kids aged 10 and up, with a few for 7-year-olds and none for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners. I sighed and asked my husband to start looking for a family resort — somewhere close, because I am not keen on flying. We briefly entertained the idea of going on a safari, but, as it turns out, safari is not allowed for kids under 6.

Why Austria, not Africa

So we changed course and decided to go to Austria instead. We managed to book a 5-star hotel last-minute that offers ski school and all kinds of entertainment for kids, including all-day care. It came at a cost, but, well, we didn’t have many options. We were late and it was our first time — we are new to the Swiss school system!

For the first week of the holidays, I decided to shut my business and take care of the kids. But I still needed help. My son would be going to ski school every morning for three hours, but it was clear my daughter was not ready for it yet and would need to stay at home. But who would look after her? I called my mom — who else! — and she flew over for the week.

Could I have everything? Would I have everything? I had no idea.

If you are a mom, you’ll know that taking your kid to ski school is only a small part of your entire job. Behind the scenes, there are also things like grocery shopping, preparing lunches and dinners, packing snacks, and generally keeping the kids busy so they don’t end up spending hours in front of the TV. And I only have two — what about those parents who have three or four kids? They all have different needs at different ages, different preferences and different schedules… And let me ask one more question: are parents actually allowed to take paid leave for 12 weeks of school holidays? 

As Michelle Obama writes in her book:

 “I wanted to live with the hat-tossing, independent-career-woman zest of Mary Tyler Moore, and at the same time I gravitated toward the stabilizing, self-sacrificing, seemingly bland normalcy of being a wife and mother.

I wanted to have a work life and a home life, but with some promise that one would never fully squelch the other. I hoped to be exactly like my own mother and at the same time nothing like her at all. It was an odd and confounding thing to ponder.

Could I have everything? Would I have everything? I had no idea.

These are questions that many women go through countless times in their lives and this is why I personally want to see more women in politics, like Erna Solberg, the Norwegian prime minster. She promotes a wealth of family-friendly initiatives, such as flexible working hours, affordable day care, and generous parental leave systems. 

Over here in Switzerland, we are very far from such a model. Do you have any idea how much day care costs before your kids turn 5? Each day equals a 5-star hotel stay.

At the same time, foreigners like me feel we don’t have the right to raise our voice since we are not local. And yet we live here and we pay taxes and, in many ways, we contribute to the progress of this country.

A surprising fact: No amount of healthy eating can pump up your energy to do it all. You still need rest and 8 hours sleep! 

Anyway, back to my living room…  

I feel physically exhausted. No matter how healthily I eat and how often I exercise, my energy levels apparently hit their limit weekly. Every day feels like getting on the same hamster wheel and, just when you may be thinking you are on top of things, the next holiday comes. Your routine is turned upside down and you need to adjust once again.

After dinner, we play a game of dominoes and the kids go to bed arguing once again who will read them a story: mommy or daddy. Once they are asleep, I get back to the suitcases. By 10 pm I am finally done, and I jump on top of the big grey suitcase to zip it up. I am already thinking I have absolutely no intention of skiing this holiday. Instead, what I am wishing for is some quiet time in the sauna and a few hours of extra sleep in the morning. If I get really lucky, I might read a good book or get a massage and a facial.  

The next day everyone is up early, and I prepare breakfast, some snacks for the road, and, finally, a green smoothie for myself. We hardly manage to close the boot of the car, what with the ski gear, two suitcases, and about 20 pairs of shoes altogether… But, eventually, we are off, and I finally feel the excitement creeping in!

Travelling as family is a really special experience. It brings you even closer together and you become a team. The kids grow and change right in front of your eyes; they interact differently with you, learning about a world outside the usual routine. In some ways it makes us parents evolve too, because, growing old, we sometimes get stuck in our comfort zones. With kids, you are constantly challenged to change your perspective. It’s a true blessing to be a parent! I hope you know it despite how hard it may feel sometimes.