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Is it just me, or has the whole “back to school” season become one more competition to show just how awesome of a mom you are?
From the uber-specific school supply lists we’re supposed to source (reference this “artisanal” list of school supplies on The Science of Parenthood if you need a laugh on this subject) to back-to-school teacher gifts and parties(!) people are planning on Pinterest, I feel like the mompetition is getting a little out of control.
I’m volunteering to be the voice of sanity and reason for all us working moms (and SAHMs, for that matter) who will be settling for “good enough” as we help our kids prepare for their annual return to the classroom. My good-enough list of back to school tips includes 10 hacks and shortcuts for starting the year off right:
Tip 1: Order the must-haves online.
Who has time or gas money to zig zag all over town to find 12 plain plastic (poly) 2-pocket, folders with fasteners/3-pronged in a predetermined array of colors? Or the heavy duty zippered canvas pencil pouch, 6H and 6B graphite drawing pencils, 5-inch Fiskars Scissors (Pointed) or Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Graphing Calculator, for that matter?
I’d much rather use my Amazon Prime membership and spend just a few minutes searching for the items on my kids’ lists. Not only does it save me time, but ordering online also saves money on gas (everything’s delivered straight to my door) and often gets me lower prices on the items themselves. Win-win. (Get a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime here.)
Tip 2: Shop for nice-to-haves at local retailers.
At my kids’ Montessori school, they both have to wear “sturdy indoor slip-on shoes” (e.g. Tom’s) inside the classroom only. I could order these online, but it’s pretty much guaranteed they won’t fit unless we go to a store and try them on.
We also need to get some rain boots and coats, maybe new lunch boxes, a few pairs of non-holey pants — nothing that has to be purchased by the first day of school, necessarily, or was prescribed by the teacher. The kids and I can just tack it on to another errand run soon. No big whoop.
Also, feel totally free to buy secondhand, my friends. Sometimes you can find everything your kids need at a single resale shop for half the price of new stuff from five different stores.
Tip 3: Reevaluate what your kids can do or contribute.
We do too much for our kids. Am I right? It starts out because they aren’t capable of doing the things (not too many babies can change their own diapers). But as they grow up, we often step in and “help” just to get it done faster or better — even when our child is fully able to perform the task himself.
Now that your kiddos are a year older since last back-to-school season, it’s the perfect time to consider new chores or responsibilities they can do on their own. My 8-year-old can make her own lunch now, and my 5-year-old can buckle/unbuckle himself in his car seat. Think about how your kids can exhibit more independence (and simultaneously take some to-do’s off your list) this year.
Tip 4: Devise a routine you and your kids can stick to.
Looking at my kids’ end-of-school reports from last year, I felt all manner of shame and guilt when I saw how many “tardies” they had racked up. I drive them to school each morning, so the fault for this habitual lateness falls squarely on me.
We (I) have decided they are going to bed earlier (8 p.m. instead of 9-ish-or-something), waking up earlier (7 a.m. alarm clock) and leaving the house no later than 8 a.m. to make it to carline by 8:40. It’s going to take a bit more preparation and sticking to routine than we did last year, but we’re (I’m) determined to be punctual this year. Dammit.
If your routine from last year could use similar overhauling or tweaking, be honest with yourselves about what you can achieve and then commit. Make it happen!
Tip 5: Over the weekend, get laundry, groceries and meal prep done for the week.
I don’t think I can overstate how much it helps working moms to get household essentials done on weekends as opposed to “trying to squeeze it in” on weeknights. I know this well, because I often fail to get laundry or groceries finished by Sunday night, and spend the remainder of the week cursing myself as I dig through laundry baskets or stop at the grocery store on the way from home from a long workday.
If you’re able to share the work with your spouse and kids, all the better. Just get it done, and you’ll all be glad. Trust me.
Tip 6: Spend the week before school starts shifting from summer low gear to school year high gear.
Does your family let things slide during summer? We sure do. Bedtime and morning become fluid, school-type work (reading, writing, ‘rithmetic) doesn’t happen with a lot of regularity, and there’s a whole lotta TV-watching goin’ on.
If you can, ease everyone back to school-night bedtimes and wakeup times over a period of days. Have them sit down and do 15 minutes of writing/reading work each day, just to remind them what it’s like. Talk about what they’re looking forward to in school, who their classmates and teachers will be, and activities they might be interested in trying.
Basically just help ease them back into “school mode” as much as you can, as WMAG’s Allison Bell Bern points out in her article about reversing summer slide.
Tip 7: Get all the dang forms and signups over with.
Why do schools require so much paperwork? I can’t help you solve this mystery, but I can assure you that promptly getting the paperwork signed, sealed and delivered will make everyone’s life much easier. As soon as you get the requests — via email, snail mail, kid’s backpack — turn those badboys around so you don’t have to deal with administrative hassle later on.
And when school starts asking parents to pitch in, allow me to refer you to this cardinal rule of school volunteering from Working Mother editor Jennifer Owens: Follow, Don’t Lead.
“Don’t lead, but volunteer early and often; be the first to get your dollars and forms turned in so the organizer doesn’t have to track you down; never forget your day to bring in snacks,” she advises in her editor’s note of the back-to-school issue. Brilliant advice!
Tip 8: Resist the temptation to overschedule.
I am a habitual overcommitter — which does not mesh well with my tendency to run late for everything. But I digress.
I’ve always wanted to get involved in everything, and get my kids involved, too. Piano lessons, voice lessons, soccer, church activities, playdates, fundraisers, yes! Let’s do it all!
NO. Don’t do it all. Give yourself a break. Be super choosy about the few commitments you make outside of work/school for you/your kids.
Because you’ll only regret all those lessons and fundraisers later when work gets crazy, homework stacks up, and everyone is crying and yelling in the minivan as you pull through a fast-food drive through and want to chuck your overscheduled calendar out the window.
Tip 9: Establish good communication with your kids and their teachers.
“How was school today?” “Good.” “Whadja learn?” “Nuthin.”
We all know how the typical afterschool conversation goes. Make sure you have the ability to check in with your child’s teachers, either via email or phone, from time to time and get their perspective on how school’s going. Also, find reliable ways to read your child’s mood, behavior and progress when the direct approach gets you nowhere. I recommend checking out these talking strategies on the PBS Parents site.
If you start the school year off with open communication, that will go a long way to making sure your child thrives at school and gets what she needs to succeed.
Tip 10: Show your kids extra love and support — going back to school can be stressful!
Do you remember being a kid and starting a new school year? Do a little time-traveling to remember the feeling of bus seat politics, reading the vibe of new teachers, last year’s BFF who’s now giving you the cold shoulder, new subjects that seem totally foreign (trigonometry? huh?)
That’s a lot to take in. Whether your child is starting at a whole new school or just moving up a grade, I think it’s a mom’s job to remind our kids that everything will be OK and we’re there to help however we can. Just knowing you’ve always got their back is huge to a kid facing back-to-school jitters or woes.
I wish you all a great start to school, and when the mompetition comes a’calling, just remember Stuart Smalley’s favorite affirmation …