It’s nothing new. Every year parents of school-aged kids say goodbye to the more relaxed days of summer and have to prepare the family to transition back to school. For parents who work outside of the home, the start of a new school year often brings the added stress of things like coordinating school drop-off and pickup with their daily work schedule and finding time in the evenings for homework, packing lunches, and having a little bit of downtime before waking up and doing it all over again tomorrow.
If you’re feeling anxious about all of this, your feelings are valid and you are not alone. While there is only so much you can do ahead of the first day of school, to plan and prepare as much as you can ahead of time can help ease the anxiety and stress, and may even help you enjoy watching your child as they transition into the next grade.
Even if your child is just entering kindergarten and this is all new to you, there are plenty of things you can still do ahead of the school year to help you at home and at work. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Be transparent. Let your manager/supervisor and coworkers know what’s going on and that you may need a little more flexibility and grace as your family adjusts and settles into your new routine. Remember, it’s always better to prepare for the worst and overdeliver than to keep your employer in the dark (which can make it look like you’re underperforming).
Request vacation days ASAP. As soon as you get your hands on your kid’s school calendar, request time off for days when the school is closed. By doing this, you won’t have the task hanging over your head for months and you will rest easy knowing you have childcare lined up. Plus, if something changes, it’s always easier to rescind a request at the last minute than to make a new one.
Come up with a backup child care plan for sick days. Ideally, your employer will be understanding and flexible when your child has to stay home from school for illness, but sometimes there are meetings or things that require your attention that make it difficult to take off work. Before school starts, try securing some kind of emergency backup child care. This could be a family member or a neighbor who would be willing to come over on short notice.
Figure out child care for before and after school. For parents working 40 hours a week, the school day tends to be shorter than the workday so there are a few hours where you’ll need child care. Make sure you’ve established some kind of arrangement now, either through after-school programs or with a babysitter of some kind, so that you’re not scrambling at the last minute.
Start advocating for flexibility if necessary. Maybe now is the time to start a conversation with your boss about giving you more flexibility, either with remote work or flex hours. There is only so much that is in your control with school-aged kids and the easier it is to work around your kids’ schedules the happier you will be as an employee.
Get familiar with the school’s website and calendar. Play around on the website so that you will know where to go for answers during the school year. Also, look over the school calendar and write down any days that are important, like half-days, parent/teacher conferences, field days, etc.
Schedule as many doctor appointments as you can now. Dentist appointments, eye exams, and annual well-checks can typically be scheduled well in advance, so get them scheduled and onto your calendar now so that you don’t constantly have the task on your to-do list once school has started.
Coordinate a carpool rotation with other parents that work outside the home. Depending on your car and family size, you may be able to set up a schedule with another parent where they are doing drop off and you are doing pickup every day, or you’re doing both one week and they do both the next.
Create designated work and homework spaces. Chances are high your kids will have some kind of homework (even if it’s just reading) and you’ll have to do a little work yourself at home now and then, so it may help to set up spaces specifically for working for you and the kids (ideally separate if you have the space). Doing this ahead of time means everyone knows where they need to go to work and it is just part of the routine from day one.
Set realistic expectations. You only have so much energy to give to your kids and work, and when school starts there are suddenly extracurricular activities, sleepovers, science projects, and clubs to add to your already full plate. To help prevent burnout, be realistic with yourself and your kids with how much you can do in a given week. Yes, your kids will still try to push the limits, but at least when you have to tell them “no” to something they won’t be completely shocked.
If you can, hire some help. This is definitely a privilege that not everyone has, but if you have a little wiggle room in your budget, consider hiring some help. This could be someone to come clean your house once a month, grocery delivery, or even asking a neighbor kid who wants to make a few bucks to mow your grass every week. If you can set this up now, that will be one less thing to worry about as your family settles into the school routine.
Establish Routines and a Hybrid Calendar
You have probably been hearing this since your kids were babies, but establishing a routine is key for success, especially during transitions. So, a couple of weeks before school actually starts, ease the kids back into their routine. Here are some things you can do:
Start waking them up earlier and earlier and have them go through the motions of getting ready for school (shower, breakfast, getting dressed, etc.)
At night, have them pick out their clothes for the following day to make the mornings easier
Practice your commute as if you’re doing dropoff and/or pickup to make sure you’re able to get to/from the office on time (remember, traffic will be heavier once school actually starts so prepare accordingly)
This is going to be really helpful once the school year is in full swing, but remember not to be too strict now. The goal is to get everyone prepared so that the first day of school isn’t a total shock to the system, not to rob the family of the last few weeks of summer.
Creating a Calendar
If you don’t have a calendar system that works for you already, it’s time to get one. Unfortunately, this is not a one-system-fits-all type of situation, because everyone works differently. That being said, when you’re coming up with your calendar, make sure you have a way to see both your family’s activities and your work schedule at the same time (a hybrid calendar) so that you can avoid scheduling conflicts on important days. Here’s what a typical day and week calendar may look like for a family of four with two school-aged kids.
You’ve Got This
Yes, this time of year can be very stressful, but there are still some things that are in your control that will help make this transition much smoother for the whole family. The right planning and preparations will allow your family to ease into the new school year while you continue to deliver at work.
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