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Storms are in the news a lot this time of year. But there's one storm that comes in under the radar and hits every family with school-age kids: I'm talking about the all-encompassing cyclone that is post-back-to-school anxiety.
And it looks like this: The first day back is so exciting. The kiddos have picked out new outfits. You post pics of them by your front door – holding a chalkboard sign, of course. You feel a swell of pride as they march off to meet new challenges, make new friends, and possibly learn stuff. Maybe you feel relief mixed with a twinge of sadness when you walk back into your quiet house. Unless, like me, you have still have some kids at home.
For the first few easy, homework-free days, you're fooled into thinking, "I've got this." Then, somewhere around day 3 or 4 – when a torrent of forms to sign, lists of things you have to do, schedules, and announcements about upcoming projects and events come home in the backpacks – you realize, well, crap!
But, there's no time to despair. There’s a Crock-Pot meal to start before you pile the kids into the car to take them to a practice somewhere. And in the back of your mind, you're thinking, I have to keep up this outrageous, no-mercy pace. All. Year. Long. And that realization is daunting as hell. And you kind of feel like crying.
Is it just me?
According to a recent study, back-to-school anxiety – and we’re talking about parents here – is real. Waking kids up early and all the school expenses topped most parents' list of stressors.
Mornings are tough: Just getting the children where they need to be on time, fully dressed, fed, lunch in hand, permission slip signed, check for the field trip written, and school picture form filled out starts to feel like working in a NASCAR pit crew. After-school time is like tackling a whole new day. There are snacks to make, dinners to plan and prepare, and carpools to run – to and from here, there, and everywhere.
My three older kids want to do all the things: gymnastics, golf, soccer, hip-hop, chorus, drama club, art club, swim team, volleyball team, and scouts. For now. Two weeks from now, they’ll inevitably say they hate half these activities.
And the expenses: Affording all their supplies – including monogrammed backpacks with coordinating lunch boxes and thermoses, and very specific pencils, notebooks, and folders that (amazing, seriously amazing!) teachers ask for means working. But how do we find time to work when we're running ourselves ragged getting to and from school and after-school activities? Oh yes, and back-to-school night, family night, the book fair, and so on.
I'm fortunate to have a part-time job that's flexible enough to do from home. I bow down to parents who work full-time outside the home and manage not to cry every single day of the school year.
And it all makes me wonder: what would happen if a child had a day when they just came home from school and had nothing to do? Oh, I know – I'd be coordinating a playdate, obviously.
But the thing is, you get through the obstacles of dinner, and homework, and the day is still going! Showers. And then reading. Ugh, the reading – because despite all you do, you still aren't up to snuff as a parent if you skip the nightly reading. And really, all you want to do is drop. Dead. On the floor. Right there. On the train track carpet of your child's bedroom. And use a stuffie as a pillow and fall asleep.
But nooooooo. You gotta stay peppy. You must stay on. Time to read about a turtle who hates homework. If you have multiple kiddos, reading time can stretch to an hour. By then, it's 9 p.m., and you only have nine hours before you have to get up and do this crazy dance all over again.
All of us are just doing our best. The demands placed on modern parents with school-age kids is no joke. It's like too-tired-to-even-have-that-glass-of-wine-level tired. I never thought I'd live for the weekends like this. Except for the weekends I spend at swim meets or a karate tournament. Seriously, when does it end? It doesn't.
And so it's up to us to carve out downtime. And let something go. To make sit-down family dinner happen at least sometimes. To say "no" to new commitments. To teach our kids the importance of school and activities and friends, without letting the "schoolnado" swallow us whole.
I don't have the answers. But just sharing what my life is like now that my kids are back in school has given me the smallest shred of clarity: I don't want to live in this state of constant anxiety, trying to make it all happen perfectly.
Here's hoping we can all take a step back, and appreciate some of the small moments with our kids before the school surge consumes us completely. And it's too late.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.