My daughter went back to school today, and the past week has been hectic getting everything ready. We had supplies to buy, uniforms that needed altering, and I had a mile-long grocery list of healthy school lunch ingredients that weren’t going to shop for themselves. In the midst of the chaos, I realized that for me, the New Year has always started on the first day of school.
This is when I make my real resolutions — get up earlier, less screen time, exercise as a family, start juicing again. Honestly, I get a little manic with the whole thing. I think it’s something about the scent of fresh vinyl in the new three-ring binders that gets to me, and the sight of a blank composition book waiting to be filled stirs some primal memory of my own school years.
I hate to admit this, but I wasn’t always the best student. If I were a kid now, I would probably be diagnosed with an alphabet of acronyms, but back then I was considered dreamy, disorganized, and easily distracted. From kindergarten on, I was used to being told that I needed to “apply myself” and “focus.” And come every September, knowing what was in store for me from teachers and family, I vowed that this would be the year that I’d finally change — I would keep my locker clean, remember my homework assignments, join clubs, be popular! But a few weeks into the semester, I’d lose steam and give up.
Now, as a parent, I noticed I’ve been repeating that same pattern. After lazy summers spent sleeping in and staying up late, the back-to-school season creeps up on me, and I switch into super-mom mode. In high gear, all of a sudden I feel this enormous pressure to give, not just myself, but our entire family a reboot. This will be the year that we give up plastic, volunteer at a soup kitchen, and start soccer, ballet, gymnastics, and piano. I will cut sandwiches into stars, be the class mom, start ironing, color code our closets, stop drinking coffee and switch to green tea, make an art cabinet, scratch inspiring messages on banana peels, and hand-craft birthday party invitations out of artisan vintage paper! I am super human and I am going to get everything done!
It occurred to me that I’m not the only mom who does this. The new school year brings so many possibilities for a fresh start, but we can also get a little too hard on ourselves trying to be too perfect and do too much. I’ve finally realized that the reason I always run out of steam before Columbus Day is pretty simple — I’m wearing myself out. I have great intentions but my expectations are unrealistic, and the pressure I put on myself to do so many things overwhelms me. More often than not, I give up and consider it a miracle if I actually manage to put the laundry away.
This time, I’ve vowed to go a little easier on myself and make a gentler transition from summer to school. In other words, it’s going to be okay if I don’t manage to make that overnight oatmeal in mason jars that I saw on Pinterest, or if I forget to take professional quality photos of my daughter holding a little chalkboard sign on the first day of school.
I resolve to be a little nicer to myself, especially when it comes to parenting. And this fall, I’m going to learn to say “no” when I feel the urge to sign myself up for one more club or volunteer opportunity just because I believe I “should” in order to be a “good” mom. I’m shelving my myriad Pinterest project ideas (we will not be eating a single meal out of an antique glass jar), and if I make fresh juice once a week? Fantastic. If the juicer stays on the shelf? That’s fine, too.
When I began to explore where this back-to-school mania was coming from in myself and other moms, I found that it originates in feelings of inadequacy. We all think we should be doing more, and sure, there is always room for improvement, but often it’s more beneficial if we dial things back instead of ramping them up. That’s why I’m decluttering my to-do list and will tackle only one new change (we really do need to go to bed earlier and get up earlier). If we can accomplish just this goal, that will be plenty. The crafts and photos and homemade vegan snacks can wait indefinitely.
Since the root cause of my annual back-to-school nervous breakdown is unworthiness, I’m shifting my focus. When our kids get off track, we point them in a different direction. Adults need to be redirected sometimes too, so I’ve decided to recognize all the ways in which our family already does enough, has enough, and is enough.
The new school year is an exciting time that gives us so much to look forward to. New grades, new teachers, different classrooms — these things represent a clean slate and inspiration for even more changes. But it’s easy to get carried away and to become overwhelmed. We need to pace ourselves, stay realistic about what we can handle, and most of all, congratulate ourselves for all the great things we’ve already accomplished, like unloading the dishwasher and remembering to send our children to school with matching shoes.