the back to school advice that really matters first day of school photo

The back-to-school advice
that really matters

I’m going to breathe a big sigh of relief when the kids go back to school next week.

There’s no question I’ve always been happy to see an end to summer childcare juggles—Who is going to what camp this week? Who needs a lunch? What time is pick-up? Do you have your bathing suit/personal flotation device/ball glove/sunscreen?—even if it means that summer itself must come to an end.

Now that I work from home, I feel the disruption even more keenly, especially since my productivity is so directly linked to my income. Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful that I don’t have to apologize to anyone if I need to duck out at 3:30 to get a kid at camp (and that we have the means for camp in the first place). And while I welcomed the warm days of summer and enjoyed the holiday time we had together at the beginning of the season, the truth is that the vast majority of summer is spent doing an awkward dance between the kids and work.

But even before becoming a parent—and long after my own school days—I’ve always relished the fresh start that a new school year brings. There’s something delicious about the beginning of September and the promise it holds. I love it all, from the smell of freshly-sharpened pencils to the feel of cable knit the first day that it’s cool enough for a sweater. Like the blank pages of a calendar before everyone’s practices and lessons are scribbled in, that first week anything feels possible.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s possible to get so caught up in getting the school year off to a good start that we can drive ourselves absolutely mad. That’s because there’s no end to the things we could be doing in an attempt to execute the perfect beginning to the year (and some mom will always be better at labelling shit than you). Yes, it would have been a smart to get the kids to bed earlier every night for the last two weeks. Great idea to have the kids’ clothes perfectly sorted (I wish), their hair cut (forget about it) and every pencil sharpened (nope). Ideally, their homework desk would be cleared of the summer’s worth of found rocks and sticks that accumulated there over the last 10 weeks and magazine folders set up to corral permission forms and library books.

All of that stuff is a great idea. But all of that stuff takes time, and maybe you spent your summer, well, enjoying summer (likely while working, coordinating camps, keeping kids entertained, etc. etc. *collapse*). Good thing no one ever died of an unlabelled pencil case.

So if you haven’t managed to get all of that done by Labour Day, rest easy. Because none of it is even remotely related to whether or not your family is going to have a good school year.

I’ll tell you what is.

The one thing you really need to do to set your family up for success this fall is to be smart about how much you take on.  While that new calendar on the wall is essential, no system, no app, no family command centre, is going to make life work if you’re over-programmed. Not if it takes herculean effort to get your kids to all the enriching activities you’ve signed them up for in a well-meaning but misguided attempt to give them a leg up in life.

It is not easy to strike the right balance. (I kind of cringe as I type the word “balance” because it seems to suggest that it’s even possible to find the perfect equilibrium.)  There are so many really great—even essential—activities to put the kids in. Just making sure your kids get, say, the swimming lessons they need to stay alive and any crucial tutoring can easily fill up the week. And that’s before you even factor in their favourite pursuits—hockey, dance, piano, karate. But I promise you that you won’t come anywhere near the mythic city of BalanceTown if you’re in the van every night around dinnertime.

Nothing will make you feel more frantic and crappy than feeding your kids pogos in the car en route to [FILL IN THE BLANK] practice. So sit down as a family and have a meeting about what can realistically be achieved in terms of extra-curriculars this fall. And put your own indoor soccer, yoga, running clinic or watercolour painting class on the calendar, please. You need it to stay healthy and sane. And they need to see you modelling a lifestyle that isn’t all about catering to them.

When you’re having your meeting, get into the details. What time precisely does that activity start? How many games and practices will there be? If a little niggly voice tells you “Hey, it might be hard to get through traffic in time to get MacKenzie to the thing by 6:15,” FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LISTEN. Because if even a bit of your subconscious is picking up on this now, you can bet your conscious conscious is going to get the message in the form of palm sweats and white knuckles on the day in question.

It is SO easy to get caught up in an out-of-control extra-curricular schedule, especially when it comes to competitive sports. All it takes is someone to suggest that your kid is good enough to try out for rep/select and, naturally, wanting your child to have the positive experience of being good at something, you can just get carried along to a place where your family’s schedule is no longer your own. I’m not sure there’s any worse example of this than with hockey. I have known families that couldn’t plan Christmas vacation until they got Junior’s hockey schedule. Please don’t take away my passport for saying so but that is CRAY-CRAY. We are the bosses of our family’s schedules. It’s important to be committed to a team once you’ve made the decision to be a part of it, but think carefully when you’re weighing the matter.

To me nothing short of a fiery passion held by your child (not you) is reason enough to commit to elite-level sports or activities that will gobble up all of your family’s time together. Time you can spend preparing and sharing healthy homemade food, catching up on the day, completing homework, going for a walk around the block or playing a board game. That’s the stuff that my family needs time for in order to feel happy. I bet yours has a similar list.

How much is on your calendar this school year? How do you keep weeknights from spinning out of control? I’d really love to hear from you in the comments. And if you’re interested in seeing more posts like this, pretty please take a second and enter your email to subscribe here! Thanks so much!

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Brandie Weikle

About

Brandie is a long-time parenting editor, writer and spokesperson. Most recently editor-in-chief of Canadian Family magazine, Brandie has also been the parenting and relationships editor for the Toronto Star, founding editor of two Toronto Star websites, and an editor for Today's Parent. Brandie is a single mother of two in Toronto and a frequent television and radio guest on parenting topics. A former digital director at House & Home Media, she also consults on digital audience engagement. Contact her here.


'The back-to-school advice
that really matters' have 7 comments

  1. Doreen

    September 3, 2014 @ 12:36 am Doreen

    Great article Brandie! I’m looking forward to reading more.

    Reply

  2. Debra

    September 3, 2014 @ 1:02 am Debra

    A great reminder Brandie! I also think the (sometimes) excessive build-up to the start of school just adds stress to everyone’s life. Keep it simple 🙂

    Reply

    • Brandie Weikle

      September 3, 2014 @ 2:11 am Brandie Weikle

      I think you’re right. Why start getting everybody worked up about it weeks in advance?

      Reply

  3. September 4, 2014 @ 1:07 pm Carol Harrison

    Love the honesty here. Even with the best intentions we can’t do it all but if we give more to ourselves we have more to give. I’ve scheduled fitness in like a doctor’s appointment. I even have my a reminder on my phone to stop whatever I’m doing and get ready! My three kids have activities and I do too. It’s great role modelling as you point out. Keep the great content coming!
    Carol Harrison, Mom of 3 great kids, Registered Dietitian and Nutrition Consultant

    Reply

    • Brandie Weikle

      September 4, 2014 @ 1:10 pm Brandie Weikle

      Thank you, Carol. I’m glad this resonates with you. It’s great to hear that you take your fitness as seriously as it needs to be. Great strategies about scheduling and reminders!

      Reply

  4. August 18, 2016 @ 4:15 am The New Family / Bonus Podcast Episode: Our Best Advice for Back to School - The New Family

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