A friend and I were poolside, our sons swimming and splashing. We should have been relaxed but instead, my friend, an elementary school teacher told me she felt anxious with the school year quickly approaching. This year, her son will go to middle school - a different building, a different schedule, and a big change in their routine.
As parents, we experience back-to-school anxiety, too. We want the school year to go smoothly. We want our kids’ school schedules to blend well with our work schedules and for our kids to thrive. As we scurry around setting up carpools, buying school supplies and stocking up on lunch-box snacks, we worry about what’s to come.
For some working parents, angst stems from new routines. It may be the first time our child will walk home alone from the bus stop or attend an aftercare program. “Routines are changing, and there are a lot of decisions, and that can be stressful,“ said Maggie Macaulay, a parent educator and coach with Whole Hearted Parenting in Miramar, Fla.
Laurie Jennings, a news anchor at Miami’s WPLG-TV, said she’s feeling the jitters because she moved over the summer and her twin 7-year-old sons will go to a new school with an earlier start and end time. While she now lives closer to work, she still will give up sleep if she wants to bring her boys to school in the mornings. And she will have to take a vacation day if she ever wants to pick them up. She plans to rely on Dad much more this year because his office is only five minutes from the boys’ school.
Homework makes Jennings a little jittery, too. This school year, because of her shorter commute, she’s going to try to pop in at home a few nights a week for dinner and to supervise homework. “There’s nothing worse than coming home from work at 1 in the morning and finding mistakes. It breaks your heart.“
For others parents, the jitters come from pressure to be involved in their child’s school and staying on top of assignments. They worry if they’re not involved enough, it will come at the expense of their child. But if they’re too involved, it could come at the detriment of their career.
Vivian Conterio said she’s experiencing this nervousness as the start of school approaches. Her daughter, Gianna, will attend a new elementary school after the family moved from Miami to Homestead, Fla., over the summer. Conterio, who sat on the board of the parent-teacher association at her daughter’s previous school, wants to feel involved, but she doesn’t have as much free time this year because her work schedule as a marketing consultant has become more demanding.
“The school is totally brand new to her and me. She’s nervous and I’m nervous, too. We both want to make friends and figure out ways to get involved.“
Macaulay said parents often get anxiety and guilt about volunteering. A lot of times they have an image of what an involved parent looks like and it’s not realistic, she said. “It sets them up to feel guilty.“ She recommends each parent step back and consider how, where and when they are able to be involved in their children’s school in a way that’s doable.
As the first day approaches, some parents worry about balancing school routines and work schedules. Kareem Anguin, a single father and executive chef at The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami, said he hired more help in the restaurant’s kitchen to allow him to be home earlier this school year. Anguin’s daughter, Andrea, will start kindergarten. He plans to walk her into school in the morning and start his work day earlier to be able to arrive home by 7 p.m. to go over homework and put her to bed.
“We’re going to try for perfect attendance,“ he said.
Anguin also plans to take a day off midweek to take his daughter to soccer practice and maybe ballet. “Those are two things she wants to do this year, so I’m going to sign her up for that. I want to keep her active so she’s busy, out of trouble and just as tired as me.“
For working parents like Katie Gilden, an accountant and Davie, Fla., mother of three young children, it’s not just the balancing work and school schedules that cause her to feel anxious. After-school activities weigh into the equation, too. “I try not to over schedule. Two activities each at the most, that’s my limit.“
Gilden said getting the kids to school by 8 a.m., making sure they get their homework done and then getting them to activities can overwhelm working parents. She’s already begun preparing her boss, setting the groundwork to leave work earlier, run her kids to activities, and resume work from home later at night. “My office is paperless so I can work from home at night while the kids are doing homework next to me.“
Work life expert Cali Williams Yost recommends sitting down with your manager now, before school starts, and proposing a shift in schedule, rather than disappointing your kids or your boss. “Don’t focus on why you are proposing a change, emphasize how you will get your job done. That’s really all your manager cares about in the end.“
If there’s initial hesitation, she suggests you offer to pilot the new schedule for one month. “Chances are it will be fine and continue.“
Parents whose kids are moving on to middle or high school this year may need to manage new schedules by giving them more independence - and that often brings high anxiety. Some parents plan to temper those jitters by relying on technology to stay connected - having their teen text when they are on the bus, arrive at school or get settled at home. They may even video-chat after school.
“Neither option takes much time, but these small ’tweaks’ help parents know their child is OK so they can get back to work and focus,“ Yost said.
Macaulay said one of the most effective ways parents can keep jitters in check is to tap into their village of helpers - arrange for carpools, organize so kids walk home with friends, or agree to stand at the bus stop with kids in the morning and have another parent do it in the afternoon. “A lot of back-to-school stress can be alleviated if parents can have each other’s back and support each other,“ she said.
Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegalgmail.com. Read her columns and blog at http://worklifebalancingact.com/.