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Surviving Back to School Season as a Working Mom

Family of four standing outside their house

I dread back-to-school time, it’s not that I’ll miss my children terribly as much as it is a change of pace in life. The laid-back reprieve of summer is traded for structure and a rigid schedule in our house. It must be this way, or the crazy lineup of back-to-school activities, fall sports, and clubs will swallow my sanity.


This time of year also brings the added tasks of ensuring everyone is prepared for school with clothes, supplies, trips to the pediatrician, and the annual eye exam. Every year I say I’ll start this process in July, making sure to get a head start, but that doesn’t happen for whatever reason. This year, a cross-country move got in the way of my best-laid plans. I now find myself in that familiar crush of time making sure the kids are ready for school. With that said, I wanted to share my top 5 tips on how I’ve learned not just to survive but thrive through this busy time of year.


1. Take a deep breath, a beat…just pause for a second

I know this sounds counterintuitive to stop when life seems to be moving a million miles an hour, but this step is crucial. As working professionals and caregivers, it seems like our attention is constantly in demand. I find it incredibly important to literally stop what I am doing when I feel overwhelmed. I need a pause, just for a moment. I step out of the room, seeking outside if I can, and take a deep breath. This simple and quick pause helps me reset and I am able to assess, organize, and act on my to-do list.


Leave the phone behind when you step away and minimize distractions if you can. This is time to center yourself. Take a few deep breaths, bringing the extra oxygen into your body. I swear by this one brief but impactful movement, especially when I am getting ready to tackle a big task, like back-to-school shopping for two very picky children. I use this technique through the school year too, like when I receive the dreaded call from the school nurse as I am in the middle of preparing a presentation. Pause. Take a few deep breaths. Recenter yourself. Now you’re ready for action.


2. Prioritize by asking, will it matter in 20 years?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to apply the question, Will this matter in 20 years, when I feel overwhelmed.


It is so easy to feel buried with tasks and to-do lists that it can be challenging to know where to start. When I am overwhelmed with my to-do list, I apply my question. Then, I break it down further, will this matter in 10 years, 5 years, next two weeks, etc.? This tip allows me to prioritize what is truly important when it seems like I have a million things to do. It also allows me to organize my most time-sensitive tasks. Most importantly, it enables me to cross off all the little things that might seem important, but when I step back and look at them, they aren’t. See, we are already crossing things off that list!


3. To be the best you, nourish and nurture yourself

As a working mom, this one took me some time to learn. However, in speaking to other working moms, this seems to be an area where many of us struggle. Self-care is vital. I think of self-care like the safety speech on an airplane, “put your oxygen mask on before you help others put on theirs.” Self-care is the equivalent of your oxygen mask. Make sure your needs are met so you can help meet the needs of others.


Self-care doesn’t have to look like a spa day or a girl’s weekend. It can be as small as grabbing a favorite coffee, stealing ten minutes away with a good book, a brief walk, or soaking in the tub. Do what recharges you, even if you only have 5 minutes at a time to do it. Treating yourself to small pleasures that are just for you, are so crucial, especially when you feel that there isn’t enough time to do it. It helps me see that in the craziness of life, I matter too. Remember to put your oxygen mask on first, and then you are recharged enough to help others.


4. Put it on the calendar

Set up a shared family or caregiver calendar online. Doing this changed my life for the better! I used to be old-school with the big paper calendar in the kitchen. A friend introduced me to the shared calendar concept, and it has changed my life! Everyone in my household is responsible for putting their events on the shared calendar. We put important academic things on here as well. No more 9 pm frantic runs to the craft store for supplies for a project due the following day. Share key dates with other caregivers in your house.

I also put important school and family events on my work calendar. It may seem redundant, but it is helpful for me to see those key dates repeatedly. It also allows me to work these events into my professional life where I can.


The bottom line here is that a calendar entry is like a favor to yourself, girl, get those dates on the calendar!


5. Ask for help

Ask for help if you need it. Please read that again, pause, and take it in. Say it aloud if you have to and ask for help if I need it!


I will fully admit, I used to be terrible at this piece of advice. It took me a long time to learn this lesson. I’d have such anxiety that things wouldn’t be done the way I wanted, or I’d be seen as less than because I couldn’t do it by myself. Sometimes, it is more important to have the task completed, than done to my exact specifications. Delegate, delegate, delegate!

Sometimes complete is better than perfect… sometimes.


It is my hope that these few tips help fellow working moms and caregivers out there during this crazy time of year. Our kids are only little for a while, and like all things in life, this season will pass. Even though it is crazy, I wouldn’t trade it for a thing, and I am pretty sure you wouldn’t either. Make sure to stop and enjoy these moments because before we know it the kids will be off to college.

Written by: Jacqueline Thomas

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