Back To School: The Working Parent’s Survival Guide

*This article was originally featured in Forbes here

Earlier this week, I found myself standing outside of my three-year-old’s new preschool, waiting for our assigned time to meet the teachers on day one.

It was 10 a.m., and I was simultaneously calming my daughter’s nerves while eyeing the clock. I had client meetings to get to.

And so did all of the other parents around me. The ones I already know include C-suite executives, attorneys and entrepreneurs. Most of us, it seemed, were feeling the equal pull of wanting to show up for our kids during this pivotal moment but also wanting to make it to our various commitments on time.

The start of the school year isn’t just a major transition for our kids. It’s a major transition for the adults in charge of the kids. And all transitions in life—no matter how joyful or exciting—create stress.

So, as you round out your first week (or your first month—depending on where you live) of the school year, I offer three tips to manage your sanity during the tricky transition process:

1. Communicate. Communicate. And communicate again.

Pull out your calendar with your partner and caregivers. Make sure you know who is responsible for drop-offs, pick-up and driving to practices and games each day of the week. You don’t want a critical morning meeting to be derailed because you forgot to communicate your need and your partner is leaving the house early that day, too.

Communicate with your employer. Let your boss know what shifts you need to make in your schedule the first couple of weeks, and map out a plan for how you’ll tend to your obligations despite this transition period.

Don’t forget to talk with—and listen to—the kids. They often feel vulnerable during transition. When I asked my own daughter if she played with any of the other kids earlier this week, she said no. “I played by myself,” she said. “I was feeling too nervous.” This didn’t surprise me, as she’s incredibly timid. But what it did do was remind me to be extra compassionate and give her more attention in the evening. Let your kids know they aren’t alone in this and that you’ve got their backs.

2. Sign up with caution.

You may feel tempted to sign up for the PTO, lead the fundraising committee, coach the soccer team, or even just sign up to bring snacks for the holiday party. But do so only if it aligns with how you want to spend your time. If you’ve got treasures to spare, but are short on time, offer to donate money to cover the cost of the need. If you’ve got PTO days to burn, but don’t have money to donate, offer to be a chaperone on a field trip. Personally, I view sign-up sheets the same way I would a job board: Not every position meets my skillset or desire, so I wouldn’t waste time (my most valuable asset) applying for something that would feel draining or unsatisfying. If you’re signing up only to impress school leadership or other parents, you’ll begrudge every minute of the work while simultaneously depriving someone who would have relished the role the opportunity to do it. Say yes and mean it. Otherwise, step away from the sign-up sheet.

3. Enlist help.

Remember: You don’t have to do it all. And trying to generally ends in exhaustion and frustration that nobody appreciates how hard you are working.

If we’re being honest, meal time can be the most stressful time for working parents. (I not only hear this from clients often, but I also live it.) It is incredibly hard to rush out of the office, swing by the practice field to pick up your child, then try to pull a healthy meal together while you’re helping with homework and unexpectedly running to the store to grab project supplies. Do yourself a favor and invest in a meal delivery service (I did for the month of September, and one week in, it has transformed my evenings). Or hit up the prepared food section at your grocery store on Sunday night and have a plethora of foods prepared by someone else’s loving hands that your crew can heat and eat throughout the week.

And guess what? There are bunches of other parents in your boat right now—probably about 20, as a matter of fact, in your kiddo’s school class and other 10 or so on your kid’s team/club/activity of choice. Talk with them and figure out how you can help each other, be it carpools or even swapping Friday night play dates so you and your partner can have a real one.

Tough as transition is—especially the back-to-school sort—this, too, shall pass. By month’s end, it will be your new normal. Just remember: You control how good that new normal is. Here’s to making it great.

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