It's almost time: 10 back-to-school-once-more tips every parent needs
It has been a long time coming, but (finally) September 1st is looming.
It's the start of the school year, and reality is coming around again – after what feels like the craziest, longest, most bizarre five months ever, regular-ish life is about to commence.
I don't know about you, but in my house, during the summer holidays, bedtimes became relaxed, mornings were spent without stress and afternoons have been deliciously free from Irish spellings and math problems.
And so now, much as I am more than ready for more normality and some much-needed structure to our days, I also know from experience that trying to get back into a normal routine after all the late nights and leisurely breakfasts and general holiday mode, it can be pretty darn hard.
But like with most things, back-to-school season can be made easier with a little bit of planning and some very nifty parenting hacks:
1. Remember you
Parenting is a tough game at the best of times, and never more so at times of stress, such as back-to-school season. As a mum, you are more than likely everyone's rock – the organiser, the minder, the cook, the driver, the homework expert, the playdate scheduler and everything else in between. However, as the old saying goes – you can't pour from an empty cup, so make sure you fill your own one first – before trying to be everything to everybody.
"The time when you're raising kids is the prime of your own human development — the peak of your career and relationship-building opportunities. We've been taught that parents are supposed to sacrifice those needs for our children. Actually, all that sacrificing undermines your ability to be a great parent. If you're not fulfilled, it's really hard to nurture the fulfilment of your kids. Parenting is about fitting the right combination of things into your life so that you are whole and your child is whole."
2. Be a planning ninja
I am a firm believer in that keeping an old-school diary and having a calendar system on the wall is the key to keeping my family organised, and make sure I am can juggle both work and family life with relative ease.
I use Google calendar too, but find that writing things down work so much better for me. I keep my diary with me in my bag, and every time something gets booked or planned, I plot it in my diary – and then, later when I am home, I can transfer it onto the monthly planner I keep on the wall. Here I jot down everything from work meetings to the children's ballet classes or football tournaments or whenever any of us have doctor's or dentist appointments. I use a different colour on the calendar for each family member, meaning it is far easier to at a quick glance check who has something on that day and what it is.
3. Get the kids involved with cooking dinner
Not only will you, at least once they get used to it, save time, but chances are you will also have happier meals. Enlisting help with dinner might be the trick to getting picky eaters to try new foods and eat healthier, experts believe. Having little ones measure ingredients and read directions aloud will also help improve basic math and reading skills.
4. Don't forget to breathe
Stress can escalate, and chronic, long-term stress is actually really, really bad for our health. So when you feel overwhelmed, try this: For one full minute, breathe in for four seconds and out for six. Any time we exhale longer than we inhale, it will move us out of that fight-or-flight stress response and into the present.
5. Practise not saying 'yes' to everything
We know, as a parent, sometimes it's hard to say no — to your kids, teachers, parental responsibilities, etc. But, as Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D., author of Mommy Burnout explained to Redbook magazine, "I'll get back to you." This response gives you a chance to think about what you want to do and will eliminate those stressful things on your overstuffed plate, Ziegler says.
6. Delegate, delegate, delegate
The kids, your husband, whoever else, they are also capable of pulling their weight, so let them. Even children as young as four-five can help out with chores, be it to set the table or help you fold the washing. Bonus: It will also end up giving your children a feeling of being helpful and capable.
7. Keep your car stocked
I don't know about you, but even though we walk to and from school, I still spend a lot of time in the car during the school year, carting children to and from a whole string of activities and parties and playdates, and all sorts of other things.
Making sure I always have a selection of must-haves in the car just makes for an easier life. For instance, at the moment, you'll always find the following in my car at all times: A packet of wet-wipes (for all sorts of spills and sticky finger situations), a roll of nappy bags ( even though none of the children are still in nappies, these make for great emergency bin bags when you are handed an ice cream stick or an apple core), pens (so I can sign papers or scribble down notes or add things to my diary on the go), energy bars (sometimes homemade ones, sometimes those yummy vegan Nakd bars or something similar and healthy, for mornings that have just been too manic to eat).
I also keep some colouring books and crayons – for when one of them has to sit it out as the other one is at hockey or taekwondo or whatever. Plasters are good too, as is some antibacterial water-free hand-gel, especially these days.
8. Get up first
This might feel hard to begin with, but ever since I started setting my alarm so that I get up a good 45 minutes to an hour before I wake my children, my mornings have just become so much more enjoyable.
This ensures I have time to get myself ready, drink my hot lemon water, prepare lunchboxes, get the breakfast table ready and glance at my calendar and mentally plan my day – all before I go wake the kids and deal with all the dressing and feeding and hair brushing and siblings fighting that entails.
In fact, only when I feel like I am pretty much good to go myself do I wake the kids – and we all have a better morning because of it.
9. Get started with meal planning
If your midweek afternoons are manic, meal planning is about to give you your life back.
First, put a plan in place: Maybe you shop Saturday morning and cook Sunday, or shop Friday evening and cook a little both days—whatever works. But plan on somewhere between 90 minutes and three hours in the kitchen overall, with a few dishes (say, a winter stew) done and ready to eat, and others prepped to throw together in 10 to 20 minutes on a busy night. One key trick that will get you ahead: Cook your veggies as soon as you get them home.
Cook some grains, like rice or quinoa or whatever you like, and store in glass containers in the fridge – this will make it so much easier to just add to salads, or serve alongside something you rustle up in the night.
10. Maximize quality time
Getting back into reality again after a long and relaxing school holiday can be tough, on the whole family. So make sure you prioritise plenty of downtime too. And lots of time together as a family. Because believe it or not, this will also benefit your children in their lives outside of the family – such as in school and with their peers or when doing their homework.
Certain types of quality time, like eating meals and reading together, are important for a child's well-being. But it turns out that even shorter bursts of attention, if consistent, can be beneficial: "As long as it becomes part of their routine, like 15 uninterrupted minutes together a day talking before school or at bedtime, it can be enough to make them feel secure and loved," says parenting expert Julie Ross to Redbook mag.