It seems like it’s time to face the bittersweet reality of the back-to-school season. While on the one hand, we are more than ready to return to a sense of normalcy with our children attending school in person, on the other, we still have a lot to process. Additionally, we are still juggling to coordinate and ensure the safety and success of this new back-to-school.
The start of school marks the end of summer, perhaps the least appreciated change of season by all, but going back to school can be doubly difficult for single moms.
From trying to coordinate schedules, school, and work trips, to preparing lunches, doing homework, and surviving the workday, the titanic work of a single mother is no challenge for the faint of heart. While this we describe is any given year in the life of a single mother, 2021 is a completely different challenge, where we have to balance all these jobs during a global pandemic.
According to the Census Bureau, more than 11 million families in the U.S. with children under 18 are headed by single parents. Of those 11 million, approximately 8.9 million are households with single mothers, according to Pew Research.
We also know that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, women — especially single mothers — have been hit disproportionately hard by the pandemic and economic fallout.
Women made up the vast majority of job loss during the pandemic, a labor gap that persists still. According to a recent Gallup poll, “roughly 493,000 more women than men are absent from the labor force since the pandemic began.” And when you look at total numbers, that equates to a difference of about “2.3 million women missing from the U.S. workforce as of February 2021, compared with about 1.8 million men.”
So, we know women face many obstacles, and we know single mothers are really struggling to make it all work for themselves and their children. As we all prepare for the back-to-school season and we get ready to send our children back to the classroom (or even to virtual school), there are many steps to take to ensure that single parents survive and thrive during these tough times days ahead. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed and desperately try to keep your head above water, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the good company of other hard-working single madres who are trying to figure it all out. These simple tips can help you achieve a smooth transition back to the grind.
Wake up early
Set the alarm, get out of bed earlier than you might want to, and take a moment to clear your mind and set yourself up for success that day. Rushing in the morning only leads to a day of stress and feeling like you’re falling behind before you even begin, so instead, wake up early and get a jump start on your day, so you are ready to go once you wake your children. Get dressed, make the bed, have some (lots of) coffee, breathe, and take a moment just for yourself before the madness begins.
Make sure to get a good night’s sleep
It’s crucial to be well-rested to have a successful back-to-school experience for kids and parents alike. We know single parents don’t get much time to rest, but it’s important for you and your kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that “insufficient sleep is associated with lower academic achievement in middle school, high school, and college, as well as higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness.” Make sure that you and your kids get enough rest (10-12 hours per night for younger kids, 8-10 hours per night for teens, and as much as you can finagle for moms).
Talk about school and what to expect the night before
Make sure you have open conversations with your kids about what school will be like, what to expect, what guidelines are in place and where to go. The more you discuss ahead of time, the more prepared they will feel and the less anxious you will all be. Plus, the more you discuss the night before, the less you’ll be scrambling to answer questions and make a plan in the morning before school.
Let your boss know you might be late
It might be a good idea to talk to your boss and let them know that it is your children’s first day back to school, and you need a more flexible schedule to help your kids adjust. Be upfront and honest and set reasonable expectations for your team at work, so it’s not a surprise if you’re late or absent while trying to get your kids settled.
Take it one thing at a time
Try not to get overwhelmed, attempting to do everything at once. Take it one move at a time, one task at a time, one child at a time. Multi-task where you can, but also try to tackle one aspect of back to school at a time. Between schedules, packing, completing summer work, writing notes to teachers, reviewing classroom assignments, setting pickup plans, etc., there’s too much to do at once, and remember you’re only one person!
It’s impossible not to forget things when you have so many balls in the air. So, make lists. Write down what you don’t want to miss. Make lists of the schedules, the pickup and drop-off locations, classroom numbers, teachers’ names, after-school activities, homework assignments, supply needs, lunch requests, etc. And make your kids write their own lists, too; it will help them adjust, stay focused and organized, and teach them how to manage their own tasks and responsibilities. Plus, when they see your extra-long list, they’ll appreciate and acknowledge just how much you do every day.
Prep as much as possible the days (or night) before
Before you go to bed, pack lunches, load up backpacks, set aside snacks and water bottles, gather masks and hand sanitizer, and print out your kids’ schedules. The more you do ahead of time, the less you will need to do first thing in the morning when you’re trying to get out the door in one piece.
Ask for help!
This might be the biggest and most important tip: don’t be afraid to call in for reinforcements. One person alone cannot be in two places at once. “Don’t be a hero,” said certified financial planner Holly Mazzocca, a wealth advisor with Bartlett Wealth Management, based in Cincinnati. “Ask for help. Rely on the community in a way that you feel safe doing so.”