Home Our Cultura Time Slinging: The Working Mom’s Go-To Back to School Cheat Sheet

Time Slinging: The Working Mom’s Go-To Back to School Cheat Sheet

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When you were a kid, the start of summer was the absolute BEST feeling in the world. You’d toss your worksheets and reports in the sky and run out of that school so fast you’d think it was on fire. Freedom at last! But for moms, well, things pretty much happen in reverse. Summer break is the most stressful time of year. Your kids are around ALL. THE. TIME. And they are bored. And sweaty. And hungry. And looking to be entertained at all hours of the day. And as a working mom, you’re still just as busy and torn and stressed as you always were, maybe even more. Which is why the words “back to school” are like music to your ears. And while it does mean you might get your life back on schedule and return to a state of normalcy (or as normal as life with kids can be), transitioning back to a school state of mind also comes with its own unique set of struggles. 

From scheduling to packing lunches to getting to school and work on time to coordinating everyone’s after-school programs and making sure homework is done and maybe (maybe) even having a moment to pee in peace, the start of the school year can be pure chaos. While you are definitely getting your freedom back during school hours so you can actually get work done, you’re also shifting your focus on increasing your many tasks and responsibilities exponentially once the school year begins. And your days are already long and overloaded as it is.

A 2017 study by Reader’s Digest found that working mothers work an insane amount of hours each week. After gathering data from 2,000 mothers with children between the ages of 5 and 12, the study found that on average a working mother officially “clocks in” for the day at 6:23am and “clocks out” at 8:31pm once their responsibilities to their kids and their jobs are done for the day. PS – any working mom knows that you never actually get to clock out, you’re on call 24 hours a day for what feels like forever. But even so, that is nearly 70 hours a week, not counting the time you are expected to dedicate to your children’s school involvement and socializing with other moms and kids. Clearly being a working mom (or mom in any scenario) is not for the faint of heart or for anyone who needs a solid night’s sleep on a regular basis.

Considering how much time working moms actually spend working, and how hectic their lives can be, it makes sense that the back to school transition would be stressful for the whole family. 

According to Gemima St. Louis Ph.D., in Psychology Today, “the transition back to school affects not only children but also their families. Family routines will change and many parents re-focus on work as they watch hopefully, but often with anxiety, to see how their children will fare.” And the way to prepare and deal with the back to school transition is crucial not just for now, but for the future as well. “The start of the school year offers parents opportunities both to smooth their children’s immediate adjustment and to help build patterns of coping with transitions that will last a life-time,” she explains. 

So where does a working mom even begin? First of all, breathe. Secondly, save this as your reference guide to surviving back to school. Consider it a working mom’s back to school survival guide.  

4 Make a Schedule and Write it Down

When you’re never in a rush to be anywhere and you have flexibility with your time and your kids’ time, then it’s easy to lose control of your day. Once school starts and work is in full effect, whether you work from home or an office, it’s crucial that you have a schedule and you are able to stick to it. Pre-planning is key. Do an exercise where you write down your schedule from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed at night. We know, it sounds like overkill, but try it. Write what time you need to arrive at school or work, and then back out enough time to get ready, pack lunch, make breakfast, and check everyone’s backpacks to be sure you’re good to go. The same goes for afternoon activities; write down where everyone needs to be and when, map out how long it will take to get from A to B, and make sure that everyone is accounted for in terms of pickups and drop-offs so there are no surprises. 

Then write down a simplified chart of who needs to be where and when and hang it somewhere visible (your refrigerator, a bulletin board, next to the bed, the desk etc.) so that everyone is on the same page. If everyone in your family knows what time they need to be awake, ready, in the car, at school, at soccer, doing homework and more then they’ll be more likely to help you stick to that schedule so you’re not scrambling to get out the door on time. Plus, writing it down will make you feel more organized and less overwhelmed about how you’ll manage your time.

3 Meal Prep

Anything and everything that you can do to set yourself up for success and take some of the workload off your plate in the morning can be hugely helpful for working moms. Top of the list? Pack lunches the night before school, and if possible, meal prep at the beginning of the week. Because we all know that PB&Js and cheese sandwiches are delicious but they can get super boring five days in a row. You can make meals in bulk on a Sunday so that your kids have lunch ready to go for the next few days or even the whole week. From chicken and rice to baked ziti to chicken salad, fruit salad, and even taco bowls, you can pre-cook everything and have it portioned out and ready to go each day. This guide to kid-friendly meal prep recipes is a lifesaver for working moms. 

Set Up Ahead of Time

Similarly, pack backpacks the night before school. Make sure any permission slips or signed paperwork is there, and make sure your kids are on top of their homework if they have any. Kids tend to wait until the last minute to finish their work and projects (typical) but the more that can be done before you go to bed, the better you will sleep knowing their bags are locked and loaded and ready to go for the next day. And lay out clothes the night before, too. No morning arguments about what to wear and no stressing that a certain favorite shirt is dirty as you’re about to walk out the door. Fail to plan and plan to fail. Preparation is everything for working moms.

2 Teach Your Kids to Be Responsible for Themselves

This tip varies from family to family based on your kids’ ages and your routine, but in general, try to get your children involved in the back to school routine. Children need boundaries and they need to be actively involved in their upbringing. While you, as the parent, are in charge, like the ringleader of a circus, they are still participating members of the troop. Give them jobs. Let them help. According to psychotherapist Dan Mager, MSW, author of Roots and Wings: Mindful Parenting in Recovery, teaching children responsibility and making sure they have to perform their own tasks and chores each day is a crucial part of parenting well-adjusted kids. A longitudinal study done over a period of 25 years found that one of the best predictors for young adults’ success in early adulthood was whether they participated in household tasks at age 3 or 4. “Those early shared responsibilities extended to a sense of responsibility in other areas of their lives,” he said. 

So give them jobs. Tell them to pack their own backpacks once they are old enough to help out. Let them help clear the dinner table while you organize their lunch for tomorrow. Let them pick their school outfit for the next day, subject to your approval of course. Kids will develop a sense of independence and will be more invested in their time and yours if they are helping out. 

1 Be Realistic and be Kind to Yourself

Raise your hand if you’ve experienced mom guilt. Literally all hands should be up right now. Mom guilt is a real struggle and it plagues us all, whether we are working parents or stay at home moms. It’s impossible to be perfect and to do it all, and when we falter in any way, big or small, we feel bad. We feel guilty over missing school plays and we feel ashamed for being late to meetings. We beat ourselves up for sitting at a computer working instead of playing a card game with our kids. The struggle to balance it all is real, but if you want to survive parenthood, especially during this back to school time, you need to cut yourself some slack. 

Take a mental health day. Breathe. Meditate. Be gentle with yourself and your kids. It’s okay if they are late one day. It’s okay if you need an extension on a deadline or if you need to reschedule a meeting so you can pick up your child from school on time and be there for them. It’s okay to explain to your kid that you have responsibilities to your job and that being a mom is hard. Be realistic about your time, your inability to be everyone at once but your ability to still be a great mom. 

Ask for Help

And above all, when in doubt, ask for help. That’s what friends and neighbors and babysitters are for. Do not be afraid to admit that you need some assistance. Set up a carpool system with friends so you don’t have to worry about being at drop off or pick up every day. Schedule playdates. Sign them up for after school activities at school, which will buy you an extra couple of valuable hours to work. Ask grandparents or babysitters to carry a bit of the load and help out with the kids when you need it. And ask your boss for a bit of wiggle room too. Maybe instead of being in the office until 6pm, you can work afternoons or evenings from home to finish an assignment. Perhaps you can video conference into a meeting or two so that you don’t have to miss a parent-teacher conference. Find balance where you can, ask others to help you out, and remember, no matter what, you are doing your best, and you are doing an AMAZING job.

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