Why Is The First Day of School So Scary – For Parents, Too?
It’s Hard on Working Parents to Manage, but I Finally Found a Different Way
My oldest daughter is going on her 12th year of school – and she’s in 7th grade. I’ve got two more behind her who also started school at age 2. And none of them now or at any time in recent memory have attended the same school. (For the record that was never intentional and yes, it’s been challenging.)
I say this to establish my bona fides as a parent who knows something about the stress of beginnings – for my children, my household but also for my and my wife’s career. Plenty of people at work don’t care at all that our – and your – funny, wonderful, great, and well-groomed (at the start of the day) kids are adding a milestone and perhaps work is not top of mind.
In years past, I’ve been a ball of stress as school started. It’s been my least favorite stretch of weeks in the year. Too much to organize, too little lead time, and work on top of it all for me and my wife. Largely it was because I felt I couldn’t step back; I felt that I had to keep pressing on – though I’m quite sure now no one would have cared at all!
This year has been different. I just pulled back from scheduling too many things.
Look, I’ve always had decent control over my time – as long as my New York Times column was filed every Wednesday at 5pm. But since stepping away from it in October to start The Company of Dads, I’ve had full control of my time – which has actually meant more work but also more control as to when I work. (Kind of like the pandemic changed something about work and life….)
This year, I planned everything around the first days of school. More important for me than the sendoff on the bus, with its photos, new clothes and signs, is the return. To be there when they get off the bus, that moment when their mouths open and what flows out is pure truth – that’s music.
As every parent knows, wait a few minutes after the bus, allow exhaustion to creep in and the body to relax, and your children will be Minions tearing through the house unable to recall anything they did at school. I
So what have I learned?
1) I should have taken off the past 12 first weeks of school. No one would have missed me and I would have been more focused as a father, husband and worker.
2) Little kids talk nonsense when they get off the bus. They’re tired. But if you have that extra 15 minutes before the next call, you get pure gold. Relax, listen, absorb.
3) At some point, during some tender moment, someone will call you. Ignore it. Send it the voicemail. This is not an act of defiance. Would you hang up on a top client if another client called? I learned to think of my kids the same way: they’re my top clients, particularly in that moment, so everyone else can go to voicemail – and get called back 20 minutes later.
And that’s it. If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that we can take time to be human and no one at work, wherever they are, will know the difference!
So please be human! Your kids will appreciate it and so will you.