Excitement, stress, anticipation, fall clothes and backpacks appearing in boxes in a frantic panic to be "ready!" The back to school fervor is upon us and it is yet another time of year when working parents can lose their cool in a sea of overwhelm and guilt. Don't go there. There's another way to forge forward, friends—and it doesn't involve a trip to Staples during peak after school hours with two kids in tow.
I'm going to keep this one short and sweet, because truly—who has time to read anything longer than a list right now?
Here's my list of ways to keep it real and stay sane during Back to School:
1. Do whatever you do to stay calm
If exercise, deep breaths or a coffee date with a friend is your happy place, don't let those things fall off the list right now. There's going to be enough excitement and perhaps anxiety coming from the kids for the entire family to absorb, so the more you can manage your own stress, the less there will be to go around.
2. Acknowledge your kids' emotions that may be running high
Provide your kids with a safe place to feel the emotions of and express the fears around their upcoming return to school. For kids who may not want to talk about it, have some art materials on hand so they can express what they need to in a way that makes sense for them.
3. Don't feel the need to buy into consumer panic
If Johnny doesn't have his thermos on day one of school—everyone will live. If Jane only has a few outfits she loves right now, it's all going to work out. There will be other sales. There will be other discounts. You have a lot on your plate right now, so if shopping isn't a priority—that's OK.
4. Get organized
You may remember this one from my piece in June, A Working Parents' Guide To Surviving The School Year's End. Get ahead of all of the activities. Get them on the calendar. Divide and conquer with your village. Talk to the kids to let them know you can't go to all of the activities, but you want to go to the ones that are the most important to them—and then do your best to make that happen.
5. Routine-ify a few days early
We all let bedtimes and wakeup times slide during summer. Breaking down the routine allows us to have that extra glass of rosé in those beloved evening hours at the beach or to see that outdoor movie in the park. I strongly encourage getting back into your regular routine 2-3 days before you head back to school if you want to do your best to avoid first day meltdowns. Tired kid = melty kid.
6. Create a Ritual
Each new school year is a BIG DEAL for your kids and for you. Create a way to honor that and mark the day in a special way. We've been going out for dinner with the same two families every last and first day of school since the kids were in preschool. It's something they look forward to doing, a way for them to extend the excitement of the day and share all the big news with their oldest friends.
7. Set an intention for the new school year
What do you want to get out of this school year as a parent? Who do you want to be in the face of homework frustration, friendship struggles and changing bodies? Going into the school year with a simple intention like, I am empathy, or I am peace, could be just what you need to remember during those tough times to help you move beyond your go-to stressed out reaction.
8. Participate in a way that feels right to you
If you want to be involved in your kids' education—that's great—but do the things that make the most sense for you. If you love to go on field trips, work with the teachers to get the dates in advance so you can plan them into your work schedule. If you're a super organized type and like the administrative role of class parent, go for it! But don't step up to do those roles out of guilt or obligation. Surely there's a way you can channel your own superpowers to participate in class or in your children's school.
9. Reflect and optimize without judgment
Think about how you handled the end of school last year. What worked and what didn't? Where did your stress and overwhelm kick in? How did your badassery show up? Without making yourself feel bad or wrong about how it went down, learn from what I like to call, "The June Cluster" and choose an area to focus your improvements. Don't expect perfection, but do know that by the time the kids go to college—you're going to be killing it!
10. Acknowledge the loss that comes with a new year
Gulp. This is a tough one. Watching your baby start kindergarten. Helping your middle schooler memorize her locker combo. Backing down when your high schooler doesn't want ANY help at all. With each new year comes new skills and a greater maturity, but also a loss of that baby who knew you were her north star. Recognizing the sting of these losses helps you prepare for the new needs of each developmental stage.
Remember, even with all the tools in the world and prep and getting ahead of it—you are not in control of how your child will handle this time of year. Kids will melt. Siblings will fight. Ice cream will fall off the cone. It's how we handle all that is not in our control—that IS within our control. I hope knowing that is the relief both you and your child need to simply do your best—and have gratitude that your best is pretty great.