As a mother of four kids, I've been navigating the school system for the last 10 years.
There are a lot of adjustments that come with starting school — and not just for the kids.
With my youngest child starting this year, I've learned to put less pressure on myself.
I still remember the excitement and nerves when my oldest daughter began school a decade ago; that's just how I felt.
Now, my youngest is starting reception — the London equivalent of kindergarten — this September, in the same school. I'm full of emotion, as is she, but I'm a lot less stressed than I once was.
I don't put pressure on myself like I used to. I've also discovered how the school can enrich a parent's life as much as a child's. Here are some things I've learned that I hope will help those starting out in school.
Certain times of year will be very busy
If you start to notice that some months when school is in session feel more chaotic than when the kids are on vacation, that's because they are.
September is hectic, no matter how many years you've been in the school system; new teachers, new classes, new curricula.
December is busy with festive shows and school events, while the last month of the academic year is packed with sports days, end-of-year parties, and more. It can feel like a shock to the system if you're not used to it.
Dress-up days and school projects are always happening
With all four of mine in school this year, I've accepted that I will be digging out a costume, baking something allergen-free, or attempting to craft Egyptian canopic jars from Pringles cans on a weekly basis. I've also accepted that I will forget half of what I'm supposed to do, and I refuse to beat myself up about it like I used to.
Going to school isn't always easier for parents
My three older kids were all cheerful and confident at home, so I wasn't prepared for the emotional turmoil that starting school would bring.
As Taylor Swift might say, "screaming, crying, perfect storms" were all too common at school drop-off. My kids weren't unhappy about going to school — they just didn't want me to go, either. While teachers assured me the tears stopped once they entered the classroom, I'd be an emotional wreck before my workday started.
After school was no better. A child described as "star-of-the-week" material by their teacher would arrive home a weeping, raging, tired monster. If you're in this boat, don't despair. In my experience, it usually takes a term for the kids to adjust.
One thing I don't think you can ever really prepare yourself for is the heartbreak of seeing your child despondent because someone called them a mean name or because they didn't get invited to something. It breaks me every time.
The social side of things can be just as stressful for parents
From pressure to host class parties to what feels like speed dating new parents in your kids' classes, starting school can be just as stressful for parents.
I used to be a nervous wreck at every social encounter. Desperate to make friends, I was anxious I wasn't in my best chit-chatting form at 9 a.m. on no sleep.
These friendships will happen in their own time, organically. This is applicable to kids, too. My eldest has the loveliest friendship with a boy she's been in class with from nursery. Despite being in the same class from the age of 3 on, they only bonded when they moved to a new secondary school at age 10.
School-mom-and-dad friendships can be just as magical as those first school friends you make. Maybe even more so: A mom from my oldest daughter's class is now the godmother to my youngest child.
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