As a working mom, it might be surprising to hear that I prefer summer over an academic school year. Summers are tough because I have to balance a full-time job while entertaining three children at home, secure spots in activities that align with my work schedule, are of interest to my girls, and are affordable. And this summer is particularly difficult due to the concerning Delta variant that makes me hesitant to sign up my children — who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines — for any indoor activities. The summer isn’t over and I’m already exhausted from working and playing the role of event planner/referee because there are only so many times the kids can read quietly or play together without getting on each other’s nerves. Despite the chaos, hourly shouts of “I’m bored!” and daily bickering, I’d still opt for endless summer days over a busy school year.
No matter how many calendars I mark up, or the time spent preparing and coordinating schedules, the mom-work overload that comes with sending kids back to school always hits me hard. Here are five reasons why I’m not excited about the start of school.
1. Making Lunches
Does anyone else draw a blank when it’s time to pack their child’s lunch? Cute bento boxes, food crafted into smiley faces, or artistic displays are not what will be found in my daughters’ lunch boxes as they head off to 3rd and 1st grade this fall. Creative lunches are not my thing, since I spend the majority of my day relying on my creativity to craft engaging content. That well has been drained by the end of the workday. (Also, this isn’t to say that stay-at-home moms or moms who work part-time should be creating elaborate meals — because no, just no.) Designing magical lunch experiences is not a must-do for women who already shoulder so many responsibilities, and the pandemic has only increased that workload, as 66 percent of women report taking on more child care and household responsibilities during the pandemic, according to a Deloitte Women @ Work global outlook study. As much as I would love to send my girls with a bento box as share-worthy as those lunches on TikTok, I just don’t have it in me. I have three lunch options on rotation: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a slice of pizza, or a turkey sandwich. And hey, they do get seasonal fruit — so at least that changes! Healthy and easy is what I’m all about when it comes to meals.
2. Rushed Mornings
Mornings are a complete blur as I race from room to room trying to get everyone dressed (myself included), fed, and out the door by the time the first school bell rings. I thought working from home would make mornings less chaotic since I don’t have to worry about looking presentable. I was way too optimistic. Just because I’m not spending 30 minutes getting work-ready does not make getting three people out the door on time any easier. Adding a third baby to the mix makes doing anything that much harder since, like most pandemic babies, he only wants to be held by me. This means mornings are mostly me yelling reminders to my girls to brush their teeth, wash their faces, and please wear socks, while I nurse the baby on the couch and try to drink some coffee. Otherwise, I’m running up and down the stairs lathering kids in sunscreen, combing hair, or packing laptops into backpacks. And that’s on a good day.
The mornings when both girls are in great moods are super easy. They get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and don’t argue with me about everything. Then there are the mornings when one, or both, are grumpy and ready for a fight. Those mornings require lots of deep breathing and walking away to regain some patience. It’s not an easy task to get everyone out the door on time, dressed properly, and in good moods. But we try.
3. Daily Baths
My kids have yet to hit puberty and don’t really require daily showers, which makes me extremely happy because it’s one less thing to have to do in the afternoons. So during the summer, they only bathe every other day unless they have swim practice or get extra sweaty or dirty. But when they are in school and interacting with teachers and schoolmates, daily baths are a must. Bathing my 6 and 8-year-old daily may be going overboard according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association’s recommendations, but I never want my girls to be the stinky ones in class (hey, we’ve all been there.) or the students with the dreaded itchy scalp. But that’s one more thing to add to the growing list of things to do once the workday ends, and trying to bathe the girls while keeping the baby entertained feels overwhelming at times.
4. Not-Enough-Time Evenings
Trying to make time for fun and homework between the hours of 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. is incredibly stressful during the school year. As a working mom, any time spent with my family is extremely precious, and I’m very protective of that time with my children and husband. Pandemic parenting taught me to set aside time for family time and self-care, but that’s harder to accomplish during the school year given the evening time restrictions. I can easily skip a workout if it means doing something fun with my girls, and while this sounds like a no-brainer, prioritizing self-care is really important for someone who is prone to anxiety and relies on exercise to keep it at bay. Exercise, alone time, meeting with friends are all part of my self-care plan. But the school year interrupts all those activities because homework, back-to-school events, and school projects fill those once-free gaps of time. Dinner time, packing lunches, bath time, and connecting with the kids fill up the rest of the evening, which ends promptly at 7:45 p.m. since bedtime is a strict 8 p.m. It’s not enough time! I need more time to goof around with my girls, squeeze in a 30-minute run, and go over schoolwork. School days require strict schedules, and I hate it.
5. School Events & Friend Dynamics
Introverts, like myself, probably appreciated the break from PTA meetings and awkward parent/teacher interactions on campus. Although I did miss open house and volunteering in the girls’ classrooms, I did not miss face-to-face teacher-parent conferences or back-to-school nights. Sitting in tiny chairs while the teacher runs down a list of expectations and goals for the year makes me sweat. Am I supposed to be taking notes? What if my kids don’t hit their marks? Wait, what’s this new math and how am I supposed to teach my kids to type by the end of the school year? Not to mention those awkward exchanges with parents who you kinda like but don’t want to come on too strong. Or those fake ‘Hi, it’s nice to see you again’ pleasantries with the parents of a child who bothers your daughter on the daily. It’s torture!
Aside from on-campus events, forging friendships with new moms is required at the start of every school year. My daughters make new friends because they are extroverts and love being around others. Every classmate they befriend requires some action on my end as they request a playdate. Of course, I do it, because nurturing friendships is important to me — but that doesn’t mean I enjoy the process. Small-talk just isn’t something I’m great at. Making awkward statements at inappropriate times? Now, that’s all me! Thankfully, I have a core group of friends who accept me for who I am, but all our kids attend different schools. So until my girls are able to communicate with their friends outside of the playground (my 8-year-old has already asked for an iPhone), I suck up the anxiety, hit send, and practice small talk in front of the mirror. But it’s definitely not my idea of fun.
So as we near the start of another school year, I’m happy that my kids are excited about heading back in person, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be inwardly (sometimes, outwardly) moaning about all the stress the school year brings. If that sounds like you, too, well… I’ll save you a seat at the next PTA meeting.
Before you go, shop for fun back-to-school supplies: