The beginning of another school year often guarantees additional complexity and chaos in your schedule and family, which may already feel frayed and fragile. Each of our situations is different: only child or large family; homeschooling or traditional school; single parenting or married; and every variable in between.
Thankfully, our external circumstances don’t keep us from being able to encourage and help each other. When I asked two longtime friends to share their tips without any previous discussion, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the common themes that emerged. Our daily lives are very different, but our strategies for surviving our days are often identical values applied in unique circumstances.
I’ve known these two moms since we were the ones in school. I (Natalie) have been a single mom for eight years, and my child attends a private school while I work as an editing instructor for UC Berkeley and freelance edit for publishing houses. In contrast, Gretchen Louise is a farmer’s wife who homeschools her four children and works as a “mompreneur” mentoring digital wordsmiths (gretchenlouise.com). And Jana lives in the Arizona desert and is a homeschooling mom of two (with another one on the way).
Gretchen and Jana answered three questions for me, which I asked while apologizing for asking because, well, I know how busy they are. Gretchen’s responses were necessarily brief because of her busy day, which is perfect considering our topic!
What is one thing you do — or avoid doing — to manage the busyness of the school year?
Gretchen: We say no. A lot.
Jana: I schedule no more than two field trips or events per week. If we do much more than that, we don’t have proper time for at-home learning and just downtime/playtime. It’s the “less is more” philosophy for our family.
I had my responses to these questions before receiving my friends’ notes, but apparently, we’re finding the same general practice helps our different situations. My little family is in transition this year, and I have less endurance than I used to thanks to medical problems. So, for now, we’ve chosen to avoid any regular commitments outside of church on Sunday and required school events. We try to be home after school almost every day because we start to feel the strain if we’re out more than one or two evenings a week.
What is one tip or piece of advice for moms with kids just starting school?
Jana: I like to ease into our schooling routine, starting with 2–3 subjects and then adding the rest over a couple weeks. The abrupt change from playing all day to focused study is better handled by my children if I transition slowly.
Gretchen: Don’t try to do it all. Focus on teaching them to read and giving them a love of learning.
As moms who both homeschool, Gretchen and Jana’s answers both highlighted not trying to do too much all at once. I’ll speak on the side of those whose kids are going to school. For me, the “not too much” takes the form of not having too many decisions to make or too many extra changes in the daily routine.
I hang my morning (everyone leaving for the day) and evening (homework, prep for the next day) on a simple routine that allows us to work through the essentials without unnecessary decision fatigue. If every day looks different, it’s hard for me to remember everything. Each of us has three things to do in (pretty much) the same order every night, and as long as those get done, we’re set for the next morning.
I don’t like to be tied down to exact timetables, and other events will shake things up, but we’re so used to our short routine that if we don’t do those things in that order, I usually forget until it’s too late. Give your memory a break and put a few basic things (showers? homework?) on autopilot.
Do you have a part of your regular routine that tends to foster one-on-one conversation or quality time?
Gretchen: Morning Time (also known as Circle Time, etc.)! It’s our favorite part of the day and the first thing my kids ask for when it gets pushed out of the schedule.*
Jana: I love our nighttime routine! My husband and I switch off putting our daughter and son to bed, and this really helps us connect with our children. Even if I’ve been with them all day, there’s something about snuggling under the covers, hearing their perspective on what we did, and having the focused moments to let them know they are loved.
For Gretchen, the morning routine gives her the opportunity for that connection with her kids. For Jana, the connection is at bedtime. In our house, it’s usually dinnertime and any spare moments leading up to bed. Right now, our family is just the two of us, so almost any time at home can become one-on-one time.
This is what parenting school-aged kiddos looks like for three 30-something mothers — and perhaps something we share can be helpful to you as the school year begins and the intensity elevates. Whatever your family situation, choosing less over more and savoring simple routines can help calm the craziness.
*For more on morning circle time, one resource is A Handbook to Morning Time by Cindy Rollins.