From the moment my daughter got out of school in May to the end of July, was a complete blur of summer camp, work, travel, deadlines, proposals and pool parties. The fact that she was going back to school in three weeks had not occurred to me. When it did, I panicked. I frantically realized I had no idea what day school started and had to ask another mom. I got a brisk answer of “August 20th,” which I like to call the “working mom fail” response. The guilt of not knowing when my child starts second grade and feeling completely overwhelmed set in. Where do I begin? I’ve got to sign her up for fall activities, get a new backpack, lunchbox, some new clothes and also manage my job, meetings, travel and various work expectations.
As working moms I think we feel there is no easy way to do all of this and keep a clear head and stay on task, but I have found some tips for survival.
In the summer our routines are typically off. Activities, camp and work will run you, instead of you running them. No shock there. Bringing structure and school back into your life can be a struggle, but welcome it because it brings the return of normalcy. Settle on earlier bedtimes and routines and stick to it. Also, create a family calendar with upcoming school activities and your work schedule to make sure all planets are aligned, and if not, this gives you time to create a family management strategy.
Where does your laundry lie? Mine sits on a bed in the guest room. Clean, yet unfolded. But clean. The point here is, let your laundry lie. It is OK to let some things slip during back-to-school time. You will have so much on your plate as it is, don’t let the mundane domestic stuff get to you. Not having every thing completed or accomplished around the house is OK. You will not get a ticket or a fine for letting some things in the household fall behind. Give yourself permission. It is completely normal, and you will eventually catch up.
I think the hardest thing about being a working mom during the return to school is missing school events. Hallmarks like Meet the Teacher or Fall Festival are big events for the kids. Missing them can make you feel disconnected from their little lives and the guilt can take over. This is also difficult because you miss the chance to meet other parents and classmates at these events. You start to feel like a constant outsider because you are the mom who isn’t around enough. Don’t beat yourself up or hold yourself to an impossible standard. Know that you are doing everything that you can to accommodate both school and work and that you are still present in your kids lives, even when you can’t physically be with them.
I have a lot of wonderful friends who are stay-at-home moms. They tend to keep me grounded and I rely on them a lot for my sanity. Working mom friends can be super supportive too because they are most likely experiencing the same emotions and situations. For overall complaining, coping and time management ideas, working mom friends will happily listen and help you. In addition, their schedules will most likely parallel yours, so for all of those 2:30 play dates you have missed, you can now do play dates on schedules that accommodate the work day. The silver lining here is that you get to solidify strong relationships with other women who will stand by you when you need support.
Managing back-to-school time and work will never be perfect or foolproof. It is a balancing act that can cause disruption as you get adjusted to the new school year and schedules. Know that you are not alone; we are all muddling through it together.
Holly Caplan is a mom, workplace issues expert, career coach and author. The New Orleans native lives in Dallas.
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