The 8 Very Real Stages of Back to School (for Parents)

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

Last week, my kids returned to school for what I hoped would be the chillest back-to-school season yet. With Boy Wonder ruling the school as a hot shot 8th grader and BooBoo nestling into the middleness that is 3rd grade, I just assumed we’d ninja our way back into academia with ease.

And it seemed to be going that way, at least until Boy Wonder discovered a very dead lizard and a very alive black widow guarding her nest of killer eggs in his locker. Suddenly, it no longer seemed to matter that we stood on familiar asphalt or that we’d gone through these (em)otions before. Ready or not, the back-to-school frenzy was upon us, unfolding in the same eight stages it does each and every school year:

Stage I: Complete and utter denial

What day does school start again?

How many days of vacation are left?

There’s no way summer’s almost over. Vacation just started!

Summer’s in session without a care in the world and then one day it happens. That automated call, that postcard in the mail, that ding of an email reminding you that school is no longer just a pesky to-do scribbled on the outermost corner of your family calendar, but a very real, fast-approaching date. You ask yourself where the summer went. You’re sure there’s been some horrible mix up. You tell yourself it’s some distressing hallucination brought on by heat stroke, because it has to be.

Stage II: So much guilt & even more anger

We never made it to the beach, not even once!

I should have made the kids read more.

I wish we had more time.

Guilt sets in as you begin to realize the gravity of what has now become a cruel summer. If only you had done more — made more memories, fought the summer slide, organized the kids’ rooms! But you didn’t and now you’re just pissed. *Shakes fist* Damn you, summer vacation for being so glorious! Damn you, school for starting earlier and earlier every year! Damn you, back to school, back to bedtimes, back to lunches, and back to homework!

Stage III: Bargaining, begging & betting

Maybe we can squeeze in a last-minute getaway!

PLEASE let my kid get a good teacher this year!

I bet my kid will get stuck in a combination class this year.

Emotions spiral out of control on account of great and not-so-great expectations. Annoying school scenarios play out in your head where you’re poised, badass, and ohhhhh so ready for the next time you’re strongly urged to join the PTA/get cut off (again) in the school pick-up line/strong-armed into selling expensive fundraising gift wrap. You’ll bargain with the devil, beg for mercy, and make bets with yourself you have no business making. You sense a chill in the air; change is coming.

Stage IV: Desperation = drunkenness

So. many. school. forms. *head hits desk* 

This supply list is insane! Pour me another. Make it a double.


Everyone needs haircuts. No one has shoes. Backpacks are thrashed. Lunch bags are missing. School starts in T-minus 16 hours. Oh, and you’re still nursing a hangover from Stage III’s last-minute summer getaway. (Great idea, BTW.)

Stage V: Retail readiness

I love the smell of picked over school supplies in a crowded office superstore five minutes before closing.

You bring in reinforcements, divide and conquer to-do lists, and ultimately realize your lack of planning probably cost you way more than you needed to spend. You’ll tell yourself it was all worth it because it’s done. You go, Mom!

 Stage VI: Bittersweet acceptance (yours, not theirs)

We had a great summer, now let’s have a great school year!

It’s a new school year and a new opportunity for your kids to learn and grow. To sweet memories, new beginnings, and yay! a house with no one in it.

Stage VII: Necessary roughness

I know you haven’t had a bedtime all summer, but tonight you need to go to bed at 8 p.m.!

I know you’ve been waking up at noon all summer, but starting tomorrow you need to get up at 6:30 a.m.!

Ice cream for dinner? What do you think this is, SUMMER?!

It’s back to the grind of alarm clocks, reading logs, and school lunches. Side effects may include: crying, whining, door slamming, deep sighs, eye-rolls, attitude, and selective hearing … from both of you.

Stage VIII: Relaxed routine

Back-to-school night is over, P.E. clothes are purchased, and the teachers know your kids’ names. The first morning you make it to school before the bell, you realize you got this, your kids have got this, and a relaxed routine was everything you never knew you always wanted. You vow to be more prepared next year. You promise to maintain more balance next summer. Speaking of summer, where should you go for vacation next year? Let the planning begin.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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