I’ve made it pretty clear that the transition to having all my kids go to elementary school was hard for me. Now that we are a little further down that road and I don’t want to forget that I have so many friends that are just facing that change. I remember (and honestly many days I still feel this way) feeling like the mommy world of comradery and endless books and blog posts to encourage and equip me as a new mom, just left me high and dry when I needed them the most. For some stupid reason we all (myself included) believed that if we could just make it to when they are school aged, then everything will be easier and we will have the parenting gig all figured out and know what we’re doing. Well that’s not true. (Although, to be fair it is freaking amazing to be like “Time for lunch, go make sandwiches” or “Time for bed, go to the bathroom and brush your teeth!” I don’t miss wiping butts one little bit thank you very much.) The physical labor of the baby years eases up, but I felt like no one prepared me for the massive change of sending my kids off to school. It changes everything about your daily life, and that’s not even counting the deep emotional stuff.
I say all this, not to freak out all the moms sending babies to school for the first time. I say this because when that season hit our family I felt shipwrecked and disoriented. I needed someone to send up a flair, a smoke signal, anything to help me swim to shore.
So I’m sending up the flair for all my mommy friends who are in a tempest of back to school emotions: It’s going to be ok, and then….it’s even going to be great.
First things first, let’s just get this out of the way right now. It’s awesome that I can meet a friend or my husband for lunch with no kids during the week. It’s great when I get to run errands all by myself...I’m not going to sit here and act like that isn’t a huge perk. I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t do all the lunches and coffees and Target-ing with the sun in my hair and the wind at my back.
For about...4 days.
That’s when the quietness of my house started driving me insane, I realized there isn’t an endless line of friends without kids or jobs to keep them busy, and then of course there was my husband begging me to stop spending all our money. That’s about the time when I started feeling shipwrecked. I struggled to be productive at home when the kids were gone because I’d only ever known the art of “seize the moment when a kid doesn’t need you!” to get chores done. I didn’t really know how to choose my own routine for the day. And then all the emotions. I thought maybe I was sad or lonely or adjusting. Which is partially how I was feeling. But what I needed help from my counselor to uncover was that I felt like I’d been stripped of my PURPOSE.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I felt like I was done being a mom. Plus, lots of well meaning people kind of treated my like I had entered mommy-retirement. (Really they were just excited for me and some of them were anticipating when that day would come for them, too). For years I had been reminding myself of my noble purpose as a mom so that I could get through the long days. The problem is, when the kids left for school I had no idea what my purpose was. It was rough in so many ways and no one was there to break it all down for me.
So here is what I want to tell you:
Have fun! Exhaust yourself getting coffee and shopping and washing your hair every single day if you want to!
Cry if you need to, but don’t feel guilty if you don’t.
DO NOT GO HOME TO AN EMPTY QUIET HOUSE AFTER YOU DROP THE KIDS OFF! (At least not for the first couple of days) Make plans to work out or meet up with a friend or do one of the aforementioned, fun, kid free activities. Celebrate and give yourself healthy distractions.
Focus on the new ways that you are being an awesome mom: running errands, cleaning the house, getting a job, having snacks and dinner plans for the evening. Basically, serving your family in a way that you haven’t had the space to do before, whatever that may look like.
SELF CARE. I know this is kind of a buzzy word in our culture. Sometimes you need to do some self care splurges like massages, but mainly you need to capitalize on the extra space, the margin you have to maintain your own care. If you have had young kids at home for several years then you probably didn’t really get lots of opportunities to rest, restore, and fill up your cup on a daily basis. Now, you get to have a few hours each day to practice those little things that go a long way. For me, it’s working out, the ritual of fixing my hair and make up, and once a week enjoying a coffee shop for reading or writing. Whatever it is for you, do it and don’t feel weird about it. I can attest that being a person who feels good, will translate into being a mom who can give it her all. I feel more present, patient, and prepared as a mom during the school year then any other time.
The quantity of the hours with your kids goes down, but the QUALITY of that time together goes way up. This is a piggy back off of #5, but it really is amazing how a few concentrated, intentional hours together can be way more nurturing for the family than 12 aimless hours.
Purpose for all! Everyone functions better with a sense of purpose. This isn’t just a grown up thing, your kids do well to have their own purpose. Remind them and yourself that their purpose to learn, be active, make friends, and learn personal responsibility is a very important “job” and will shape their lives! Write down what your own purpose is and put it somewhere that you can revisit it and be encouraged.
If you made it this far, I know you really must be one of the moms who needed it. I know because I searched the internet far and wide for a little help when my kids left for school. I’ll leave with this: Your kids need you just as much, if not more than ever as they start navigating their own individual worlds. You will miss them and they will miss you, but it will become normal! Basically, you can do this and it’s ok if it is kind of hard, it’s a growing pain. You aren’t alone! This is going to be a great year!