I don’t believe “work-life balance” is a real thing, and neither do most of my working mom friends (including the very smart Sarah Penna of Awestruck). My life feels more like a sliding scale: sometimes I’m more heavily focused on work, and sometimes my kids and family life take up the bulk of my time. The adjustments – both small and large – are constant, like the balance checks needed to ride a bike or walk across the deck of a ship when the water is a bit choppy.
Occasionally though, a big wave comes and crashes into the ship and knocks it over and any semblance of “balance” is gone, at least temporarily.
That’s what back-to-school time does to me. It wrecks my equilibrium, diverts me from productivity at work, and at least briefly forces my attention solely on my kids.
Here’s a snapshot of what that first week looks like.
My middle child is outwardly bold but inwardly a worrier. This hidden, anxious part of her personality means going back to school feels scary and challenging: Will she have any friends in class? Will her new teacher be kind or stern, or have any tricky rules? Will she be able to read what the teacher wants to read without making one single mistake at all, because [she fiercely believes] mistakes are terrible? These typical student concerns are magnified and loom large in her mind for weeks ahead of the first day.
My oldest child is easygoing and always up for adventure, but the first week of school generally knocks him for a loop too. Summers at our house are full of physical activity and games and creative play. Having to return to sitting in a classroom for several hours, concentrating on math and science and reading and the like, is a real adjustment for his body and mind. He’ll come home cheerful and excited but also tired and short-tempered. Meltdowns happen. Extra snacks and early bedtimes are required.
And really, the behavior of both my big kids seems pretty normal to me. Back to school is a time of big transition for kids.
It’s a time of transition for parents, too.
No more camp drop-off around 9ish – that school bell rings at 8:00 am on the nose. No more lazily wandering over to the neighbors’ house to go swimming – the third grader already has homework assignments he needs to crank through. No more looking the other way when the third episode of Liv & Maddie comes on Disney Channel – we need to read together and then prep a healthy dinner!
We relax the rules a bit during summer, and it feels tough to get back on the wagon. Is it any wonder, then, that it’s hard to feel fully engaged on editing a contract at work or putting together a new presentation?
So in terms of work-life balance (or whatever semblance of balance I ever manage to achieve), I’m trying not to feel too guilty about being off-kilter for a while. Any tips on making the transition easier, either practically or emotionally? I’ll take ‘em all. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.