Back to School Guide: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Season of Shopping for Hot Gadgets, Cool Clothes, and School Supplies
Hey, moms and dads, it's back to school time again -- that crazy time of year when you might as well just camp
out in the mall parking lot rather than driving back and forth across
town in some unending quest for all the back-to-school essentials. (Of
course, if you've got a kid in that delightful "I have to visit all the
malls in town before I purchase a single item of clothing" stage,
you'll have to rethink your strategy a little to allow for multiple
treks to multiple mall parking lots.) Just remember to pace yourself,
folks: we've got the entire months of August and September ahead of us.
what T.S. Eliot said: it's not April that's the cruelest month -- it's
Here are some tips on surviving back-to-school time as a family.
Rethink school-year routines. We may celebrate New Year's Eve on January 1st, but it's September that marks the start of a new year if you've got school-aged kids. So take advantage of that new school year's spirit to renegotiate chores, allowances, extra-curricular schedules, clean out your kids' closets, and so on. You might also want to think about whether your own routine could use some tweaking. (As your kids move from stage to stage, your day-to-day routine generally needs to evolve with it.)
Get your kids back on a school-year sleeping routine before it's time to head back to school. Otherwise, your kids will end up suffering from what back-to-school "jet lag." (It's not exactly reasonable to expect a kid who's been sleeping in until 11:00 a.m. all summer to be functional at 7:00 a.m. on the first day of school!)
Establish the shopping ground rules before you hit the mall. Your negotiating power goes down the drain after a couple of hours of shopping. At that point, you're willing to buy just about anything your kid wants just to make the pain stop. That's why it's important to establish your kids' clothing budget long before you leave home and to mutually agree on the number and price of outfits to be purchased beforehand. Oh yeah, one more thing: avoid spending for the sake of spending (an easy trap to fall into at back-to-school time). Only buy what your kids genuinely need. The Center for a New American Dream and its sister site IBuyDifferent.org provide practical advice on living consciously (according to your values), buying wisely (buying green whenever possible and trying not to get sucked into the vortex of over-consumption) and joining with others who share your commitment to working towards a new North American dream. (Remember the old one? It was all about acquiring more stuff.)
Keep your schedule as free as possible during the first week back at school. Not only will you want to leave time in your schedule to squeeze in all those unpredictable errands that have to be run that first week -- like dashing out to pick up whatever school supplies you missed from the teacher's must-have list, or spending an hour in line (or online) trying to sign your kids up for swimming lessons -- you'll also want to be available to listen to your kids as they bring you up to speed on all those exciting first-week developments.
Keep things simple on the mealtime front. You have enough other things on your plate without having to worry about, well, what's on your plate. Order in pizza, pick up subs on your way home from work, or reheat that mystery casserole that's been languishing in the back of your freezer. The nutrition police won't book you for cutting corners in the kitchen one week of the year.
Take time for yourself. It's easy to spend the entire month of September running around at breakneck speed, picking up school supplies, signing your kids up for extra-curricular activities (here's why you might not want to overdo things on that front, by the way), and making the rounds of school open houses and picnics. Don't forget to take time for yourself during this crazy time of year. Otherwise, you could find yourself feeling supremely grumpy by the time the month draws to a close.
Set some goals for yourself as a parent. While your kids are busy setting some school-year goals for themselves (or perhaps simply starting school for the very first time), take a moment to set some goals for yourself. Maybe you want to play a more active role at your kids' school or make contact with their teachers more often -- or figure out ways to ensure that your kids have lots of time for fun and relaxation during their non-school hours? Make sure your goals are something concrete enough to be measurable and that you put your goals in writing so you can refer back to them during the school year.
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Parenting Books, The Mother of All Pregnancy Books and numerous other books about pregnancy and parenting. She is frequently featured in the print and broadcast media.
Photo Credit: Ann Douglas, 2009.