the school series : a guide for mums
Che’s first year of school was also my hardest year of motherhood to date. I don’t say that to scare you, merely to be honest about how significant the change was for me. If you are anything like me, you will spend all your time and energy preparing your child for school without much consideration for your own experience or wellbeing. You’ll ride the anticipation and novelty of the first few weeks with enthusiasm but before long you’ll realise, the role of “school mum” is both demanding and exhausting.
It took me the better part of the year to find my feet, to navigate the new 5-day-a-week routine and to let go of a few of my parenting ideals. In retrospect it was an enormous learning curve and regardless of my struggles I now feel confident and positive in my role. As we prepare to embark on the new school year (grade 1 for us) I thought it best to share a few lessons I learned through kindergarten. I hope they help!
Realise that school is a new kind of normal – perhaps the hardest part about sending my first-born off to school was accepting that it was now the norm – for the next 15 years (or more!) of my life. The spontaneity of the toddler and pre-school years were behind us and our days were officially dictated by the bell. For a few months there I really grieved the loss of our carefree days and I wondered: “Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?” I always heard stories about all the free time school offered mums but the reality was/is the complete opposite – I found I had less time. Recognise that it’s a new stage of parenthood that takes some adjusting; you will feel like you’re in a state of flux for a good few months. Feeling sad and wistful is ok – it will eventually lead to contentment as you embrace your new role and this new stage.
Learn to accept that school is the catalyst for a whole range of emotions – put simply, your child tries so hard to be good at school and when they get home they just let loose. This was particularly true for the first few months of school (and the last few weeks of every term). I learned to expect tears, tantrums, whinging, moaning and even a little bit of anger. It all stemmed from exhaustion – physical and emotional. The best way for me to deal with it was to be incredibly gentle, have little or nothing planned for our afternoons, give him a wholesome afternoon tea and serve dinner early.
Don’t plan extra-curricular activities for the first six months of school – this is a completely personal choice but let me tell you, I was so relieved I had made this decision at the beginning of the year. It’s not for everyone but it definitely served us well. It was a lovely feeling knowing that ‘school’ was the only thing we had on our kindergarten schedule.
Cancel homework (sometimes) – I was quite shocked to learn that homework was part of the kindergarten curriculum. Half-way through the first term Che came home with a reader, some writing and some sight words. I felt really conflicted about it at the time and questioned whether it was necessary. Most afternoons we got through it without much drama but on the days when exhaustion was overwhelming, Poet was needing my attention and it just seemed like too much, I cancelled it! However, every night we always encourage Che to read before bed. Nurturing a love of reading is far more important to us than memorising sight words.
Organise a school drawer – encouraging your child to get dressed in the morning (without your constant supervision) is one way to ease the stress of getting to school on time. I quickly realised that having school shirts in one drawer and shorts in another was not ideal (and frankly, it wasn’t working for my dreamer of a child). So, the bottom drawer in the wardrobe quickly became the “school uniform” drawer and everything was placed in it – shirts, shorts, underpants, singlets, socks and jumper. His hat lives on the hooks in his room and his school shoes by the door.
Get up 30minutes (or more, if you can) before the children – this is a tough one if you’ve got a baby but I quickly learned that it was the best way for me to deal with school mornings. If I could be showered, dressed and have a cup of tea in hand by the time the kids woke up I felt like I was well on my way to having a relatively calm morning. On the days when we were running late I literally had to stop myself and repeat: “Running late to kindergarten is not the end of the world and it’s definitely not worth the yelling and screaming.” When you become a school mum it’s really easy to become a shouty mum – we’ve all done it, we’ll all do it, we can all decide that there’s a better way to go about the mornings. A big part of getting up early is going to bed early – a strict bedtime ritual is essential for school mums!
Be sure of your parenting values and expect them to be challenged – a tough one, particularly in regards to computers and junk food. I was quite taken aback by the general complacency to junk food and sugar at school, especially considering that Che’s school has a “healthy” canteen (and apparently it is healthy compared to other schools). I also came to realise that birthday cakes and lolly bags will make an appearance every week or two in the classroom and that by saying “No” the social implications are huge. So I did let go of a few of my ideals; he ate every single birthday cake that was shared in class and, if there was a lolly bag, he brought it home (to be put at the top of the pantry) – we agreed to that arrangement and as far as I know, he stuck by it. I fed him a good breakfast of porridge or eggs, packed healthy school lunches and never expected him to eat it all (kids are far too busy playing to be concerned with food). Computers are a huge part of school now and whilst I agree that they are a fabulous learning tool I don’t think they need to be an everyday occurrence. When Che is on the computer he tenses up, he gets anxious and angry. We’ve set a limit to 2 x 30minute computer sessions a week – for us that’s plenty (and yes, you will constantly hear: “But so-and-so get this and that and eats packet chips and gets a computer in his room!).
Volunteer at school but know that you don’t need to do everything – reading groups, writing groups, maths groups, canteen, organising readers, craft afternoons, excursions and assemblies. If you wanted to you could be at school every single day of the week volunteering your time. My advice? Offer to help at one session a week and if you can’t make it don’t be too hard on yourself. You can’t do everything and your child doesn’t expect you to (well, maybe they do, but they’ll soon learn that it’s just not possible).
Embrace friendships with other school parents – this can be a tricky one if you’re a little shy or nervous but rest assured, most school parents are in the same boat. Throughout kindergarten I formed the most beautiful friendships with women that I might not have met if it weren’t for our children. It’s reassuring to know that regardless of where I am, there will always be a warm, welcoming face waiting at the school gate for Che. Kindergarten mums are one of a kind; always eager for a chat, a complain and a coffee after school drop-off.
Good luck fellow school mums. It’s a big step for everyone. Go gently.
Click here to read all my posts in The School Series.