Does the thought of back to school time stress you out more than you already are? Or are you excited because the kids will have some structure to their days compared to the endless days of summer? Either way, I’ve got a few useful back to school tips for us stressed-out parents.
I’m dating myself here, but I remember when September rolled around for us and it was almost time to go back to school. We always started after Labor Day.
My mom would take us to the store to pick out a new Trapper Keeper, some notebooks, and some pencils. That was pretty much the extent of our back to school lists. It wasn’t a huge ordeal. My Grandma would take us back to school clothes shopping for a few new things and maybe a pair of shoes.
Things are completely different now. My kids start as soon as the calendar turns to August. The back to school lists are a mile long and they aren’t cheap.
Now, don’t confuse this statement as a complaint. I could never be a teacher. They’re incredible individuals who have to put up with more than I could ever attempt. And the school systems do not provide them with all the necessary materials and supplies. Many teachers (in fact, I’d venture to say most teachers) end up coming out of their own pocket for supplies that shouldn’t come out of their own money.
I’m happy to contribute. I’m glad that we are able to provide our kids with what they need. But, let’s get real about the chaos of back to school. If you’re a stressed-out parent, don’t feel like you have to do it all. Do what you can and that’s enough.
Back to School Tips
Back to school is exciting, stressful and overwhelming for some. Don’t get all caught up in the stuff that you can’t afford to do or don’t have the time to do.
You Don’t Have to Have a Pinterest Worthy Announcement
Some people are super crafty and have the most amazing boards, signs, papers, or whatever else they can dream up to showcase the new year and their kids. Nothing wrong with this. If that’s your thing, that’s fabulous.
Me – I just can’t. I take their pics. I might use my letterboard and fill in the grade. Or I have them hold up the number of fingers for their respective grades and we roll on. I tried one of those dry erase boards one year that have all the different answers for their age, what they want to be one day, and so on. We used it once and we were all stressed in the morning because I didn’t have enough time to erase and start on the next kid. It’s sitting in a closet collecting dust.
If you take a sheet of notebook paper and write the grade and snap a pic – amazing.
No pic at all because you’re a working mom or dad and there isn’t time – it’s ok. I don’t have a single pic of my first day of school with a gorgeous announcement and I’m just fine. No long-lasting scars here.
Or if you can’t make it to the school for the first day because you have to be at work or a meeting, or whatever so you send them on the bus – it’s ok. They won’t shrivel up and be emotionally scarred later.
It’s so hard with social media these days being in our face 24/7. The first day of school takes about 2 minutes after school starts for those posts to start showing up in our newsfeed. And I’ll admit – I felt inadequate the first time I didn’t do something amazing. But now that my son is starting 6th grade and my daughter is starting 4th, I realize that it’s ok I didn’t do it. They are pretty fantastic kids without all of that and they don’t need our social media announcements to grow into good people.
Again – please don’t think I’m passing judgment on you if you do these things. I’m not. I’m not better than you because I don’t and you’re not better than me because you do. We are all doing this parenting thing in our own way.
Hell, some days if my kids make it to school on time with clean clothes on, I’m winning at life. And sometimes it takes a little self-assessment to realize that you’re doing ok.
If they make it to school at the right time in the right place – consider yourself a winner!
Don’t Feel Obligated to Sign Them Up For Everything
The first day of school is overwhelming. There are folders full of papers that have to be signed. Lunch numbers to remember. Agendas to buy. This club, that sport, a password for all the online accounts.
And can we just talk about these agendas? Every year in elementary school, we have to spend between $7-12 for an agenda that gets used about 4 times. In Kindergarten and 1st grade, they used it for behavior, but nothing since. Why am I buying that and why do they have to lug it around for it not to be used??
Do yourself a favor and fill out the necessary stuff first. The ones that need to get back to the teacher. Not only will you be helping them, but you’ll help yourself. Just sit down and do it. Make a simple folder for school stuff so you’ll know where everything is. Most teachers will give you a folder with important stuff so find a handy place to keep it. You won’t remember all the info from the first day.
The extra things that are optional to sign up for can wait. You don’t have to commit to PTO or Cub Scouts or Lego Club or anything else the first week. Just get them adjusted to getting to school and then worry about that stuff.
Kids Don’t Need An Entire Wardrobe for Each Year
Sure, if the clothes don’t fit, they need new ones. Or shoes. But you don’t need to go in debt for hundreds of dollars each August or September because it’s a new year. Get what they need and that’s it. They’ll be ok. If you can buy them a few new things because they need it, then great. But don’t feel like you have to have them dressed to the nines every day.
They will be better off if you save those hundreds towards their futures. Think about what you wore in school. Do you remember every outfit? Probably not.
Especially for the little kids – they need clothes that can get messy and are comfortable. Think about sitting criss-cross applesauce for a large portion of the day. Do you want to do that in fancy clothes? Nope. Let them tell you what they like to be comfortable in all day. These kids are sitting through 7 hours of class all day with maybe 20-30 minutes of recess in the lower grades. They don’t need a closet that rivals the Kardashians.
Skip the Cheap Backpack If Possible
Nothing against fun character backpacks, but they usually can’t stand up to the beating they take from kids. They get tossed around, slung onto the floor, and shoved around the bus. I let my kids pick out some of the cheapo backpacks when they started school and I had to buy a second one halfway through the year.
If I had it to do over, starting at around 1st grade, I would’ve invested in a quality backpack from the get-go. I bought each of them an L.L. Bean backpack and they’re holding up perfectly. I had the same L.L. Bean backpack from 9th grade through six years of college and into adulthood. It’s about double the price of the cheaper packs from Target or Wal-Mart but you won’t buy a new one for years and years to come.
That’s one less thing to think about each year. Wash it and it’s ready for the next year.
Get a Family Calendar
This doesn’t have to be anything fancy – we have a dry erase board on the fridge that I write down after school activities, my work schedule, appointments and more. Everyone can clearly see what’s going on each week.
Or if your kids are older and have their own phones, make a family google calendar everyone can use. I’ll admit we tried the google calendar for me and my husband, but I’m an old fashioned pen and paper kind of girl. I like having it all in one easy to see place and my kids can see it too since they open the refrigerator 800 times a day. But if you’re a digital person all the way, this might be an option for you to keep it all organized.
Realize You’ll Forget Something and It’s Ok
You’re human and a parent. Which likely means you can get a bit stressed sometimes. You might forget something. It’s ok. Your kid might come home from the first day or some time the first week and remind you that they were the only one without this color notebook or a snack for the day. Don’t freak out and think you’re a bad parent.
You’re not. You’re raising good humans and it’s a hard job. Give yourself a little extra grace, especially the first week of school. It’s mad chaos and as long as they make it there, you’re good.
Make sure you know the essentials – bus routes and times, teacher names, and hopefully you’ve had a chance to explore the school a bit with your kiddo. The non-necessary stuff can wait.
It’s OK If You Can’t Volunteer for Everything
We do our best to help out with sending supplies for parties or coming to help when our schedule allows. But we don’t have the kind of schedules that let us come eat lunch with them twice a week and volunteer for every field trip. It’s hard not to let the mom or dad guilt creep in and make you think that you aren’t doing enough or you can’t be there enough.
Maybe your work schedule won’t allow for you to be a PTO parent. It’s ok. My daughter told me once in 2nd grade that she wished she had a PTO mom. At first, I wanted to sit and cry and feel guilty because I can’t be that mom. And truthfully, I was hurt that she said it. But then I thought – she’s in 2nd grade. She might not understand why I can’t do it and some other moms can. So I sat her down and explained to her why I couldn’t be a PTO mom with my work schedule.
I explained to her that I do my best. My work schedule kept me at work until 9:30 or 10 pm some nights. And I might be gone all day from the house and I don’t have the type of job you can just leave for a few hours. I told her I try and choose a few things that are important to them each year like a Christmas party or Field Day and coming to eat lunch with them some times on my off days. Once I explained it to her in terms she could understand, she was totally fine with it. But it’s ok.
Do what you can and realize that every family situation is unique. Don’t compare yours to someone else’s. Maybe there’s a mom who is at the school for every single activity. Don’t feel bad because you can’t be that mom.
Give the Kids Some Responsibility
Depending on the age of your kids, they may be ready for more responsibility this school year. Especially as they get out of the lower grades, it’s time for them to take control over things like due dates of projects, homework, or even making lunch.
Here’s a great example – I have a friend that has three kids. When the older one hit 4th grade, he was responsible for making his own lunch. She was trying to get three kids ready for school every morning and that was one thing that he was perfectly capable of doing. I think this is amazing. He knew that if he chose not to make his lunch, he would be eating school lunch. And she said he did great.
Kids often crave more independence than we are willing to give them. I’m not suggesting that once they can tie shoes, they’re on their own. But try and encourage them to be responsible. If they have homework, I’m sure they’re aware of that. Teach them that they are in control of that and let them accept the consequences if they don’t do something.
Seriously – let them accept the consequences. Don’t bail them out every time. You won’t be doing them any favors if they know mom and dad will come running and save the day every time they skip out on homework, a project, or another responsibility they were perfectly capable of doing but chose not to.
Here’s an example of an experience we had several years ago with my son. He left his brand new jacket at school. It wasn’t in the lost and found and he couldn’t find it anywhere. I told him he had a one-time replacement deal. Luckily it was an inexpensive jacket! We bought a new one but made sure he understood that if he lost that one, he had to use his own money to buy another. Guess who didn’t lose their jacket again?
Teach Them We All Make Mistakes and No One Is Perfect
So I guess this doesn’t only apply to back to school tips, but kids need to know that it’s ok if they mess up. And one way they learn this is by watching us and our reactions to mistakes. Do we beat ourselves up and fly off the handle every time we mess something up? Don’t be surprised if you see them doing the same.
They didn’t do their homework, you didn’t bail them out, and they got in trouble at school. They accept the consequences and move on. It doesn’t mean they’re bad kids or incapable of being responsible. Show me one successful person that hasn’t failed a time or two and you may as well try and show me a unicorn.
My son had an Easter Egg hunt in Kindergarten. Apparently, we were all supposed to bring sack lunches and water afterward. Well, I had a toddler at the time and it was all I could do to get there in time and race across the field to give him his basket. When the hunt was over, I see all these moms and dads getting out blankets and lunches. I had nothing. No water, no food, nothing. And I live in Georgia where it’s hot as fire for a majority of the year.
Of course, I was mortified and felt like a complete failure. But we sat with some other people who offered us a few snacks and then I took him to eat after. I actually love to laugh at myself with that story now. I’ve had a few mom guilt moments, but that doesn’t mean I should quit trying.
Does it mean that I’m a terrible mom? Nope. I’m a normal mom and sometimes we make mistakes and forget stuff. Between work, a toddler, a Kindergartner, keeping a house together, and everything else in between, there were bound to be some things that might get forgotten.
Take it Easy Mom and Dad!
So when you’re thinking about back to school and all the chaos that can come with it, just take a breath and know that you’re doing a great job. You’re an amazing mom or dad and parents aren’t superhuman.
We can’t do all the things.
Do what you can, love your kids, tell them you’re proud of them, celebrate their wins, and let them learn from their mistakes.
Tell me what you think about these back to school tips! I’d love to hear some ways that you’ve made it easier or even your parenting fails! I love hearing from you and I promise I read each and everything that comes my way!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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