How to skive

It’s OK to skive once in a while, says Sue Elliot-Nicholls. The best piece of advice? Lie. Lie with every fibre of your being.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

For my 21st year of parenthood, as I sit upon my rocking chair peering over half-moon specs, I have a word of advice to pass on to you young ‘uns, running around from work to school with baby sick down your fronts.


Lie, scheme, slope, slither, sneak away and do it as often as possible.

I’m not talking about a pre-arranged trip to the hairdressers or a girls’ weekend away. I mean a lost day, a day all to yourself, a day when no one knows where you are.

I honestly don’t think I could have been nearly as sane when my kids were little if it hadn’t been for the secret skives. Why secret? Because when you are both working, or indeed at home full time with small children it is exhausting. Petty resentments over free time are harboured between you and your partner/mother/significant other because you are both doing your best to keep heart and soul together on diminished sleep and no time to yourselves.

Free time needs to be bartered for, phone numbers distributed, instructions left. There are tearful goodbyes, pangs of guilt and fear of leaving them.

A skive is just a day, a few glorious hours when your children are at nursery when you set out – not to work as everyone thinks – but off for some fancy-pants brunch with today’s paper before heading to the afternoon matinee.

I had such golden days skiving, eating an artisan sarnie in the cinema, long walks in Greenwich Park, sunbathing by the Serpentine. I’ve been known to go to the seaside.

Of course, when choosing your skive the important thing is you do whatever the hell you like. You can share your skive – have lunch with friends – or go home to bed and watch a back-to-back Netflix series, climb a mountain. The main thing is YOU DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.

While trudging through Epping Forest one day with tired hungry kids and babies whose flip-flops kept coming off/wanted a carry/wet themselves/needed a poo/wanted to climb trees/wanted to go home/fought/got stung by a wasp/trod in dog poo/pooed themselves (a lot of poo), my friend and I looked at each other and contemplated what a lovely day it could have been if there had been no kids.

That was my eureka moment and I have never looked back.

Day off? Why go home and catch up on washing when you could be skipping through the field of butterflies, bees buzzing, birds singing, snuffling on an expensive ice cream all to yourself?

“Stay-at-home parent? EVEN MORE reason to skive. And, yes, you do deserve it. Just lie about where you are. The world won’t fall apart without you. It’s just a few hours. A few heavenly hours of perfect solitude.”

Don’t worry about the guilt. Guilt can be a marvellous addition to a family. When you have (well I wouldn’t say lied) omitted the truth – yes, omitted the truth, that’s it, that’s better – the low-level guilt you have makes you so much nicer to your family. Making you a nicer parent and giving them happier memories of their childhood and less to slag you off about to their therapist later in life.

Anyway, it’s a silent snub to those that assume childcare is all about hanging out in the park drinking coffees. You know those people who tease with that oh-so-funny expression ‘coffee mornings’? Take a deep breath, smile at them sweetly, and make it so… nothing wrong with a coffee morning, so long as there’s no kids interrupting/having a tantrum/pooing…

Stay-at-home parent? EVEN MORE reason to skive. And, yes, you do deserve it. Just lie about where you are. The world won’t fall apart without you. It’s just a few hours. A few heavenly hours of perfect solitude. Go to a gallery, visit the gift shop afterwards – hell, buy YOURSELF an Anne Boleyn rubber. Just get your story straight about how you found it on the doctors’ waiting room floor.

I did once narrowly avoid a karmic stumble once when my husband was ill. I said I couldn’t take the kids to nursery because I had to work. In fact, I had a pre-arranged secret skive appointment with two friends at Hampstead ladies’ pond (you know who you are ladies). It was a gloriously boiling hot day, the endless summer holidays were looming and anyway this had been arranged weeks ago.

On my way home from our perfect day I realised I had my sundress on inside out. How do you explain that? You come home, you’re supposed to have been at work, you’re flushed and glowing, freshly washed hair, with your dress on inside out… So I pulled over, crouched on the floor of the car, took off the dress and fumbled around to get it back on the right way round.

I have since confessed and told my partner all about my secret life. He also confessed that he “stopped at the supermarket” on his way home from work mostly so he could have a swift half and a chat in the pub before he got home to the evening grind of baths, tea, stories, clearing up, yadda, yadda, yadda. But I knew that, and what do you know – he knew about mine too.

I still skive, escaping moody teenagers blaming me for everything. Sometimes I need those days where no one knows where I am. Do I still keep them secret? Not exactly. But I do omit the details.


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Written by Sue Elliott-Nicholls

Sue Elliott-Nicholls is an actress and writer. Often heard washing her dirty laundry on Woman’s Hour. Sue is currently on your TV screens playing Moody Margaret in Horrid Henry and Nanno in Hugglemonsters, as well as appearing in Tracey Ullman's show on BBC1. She is also a lone female voice attempting to be heard in a family of Alpha males.