The Back to School Chaos Begins

Ahhh, back to school. It’s a time of year I find both exciting and exhausting. I love that my kids get to start a new year with new milestones, new things to learn. But also, like, could things just not be so freaking chaotic?

I have generalized anxiety. Nothing stresses me out more than having incredibly important and very specific tasks I need to complete — especially if getting them wrong will affect my kids. From the headache of school registrations (how are there this many pediatrician forms I need to track down?) to the endless school supply lists that, in our school district, we don’t receive until the Friday before school starts, it gets overwhelming fast.

The crazy thing is, I know it’s all a low-stakes game. My kids are required by law to be in school. If I mess something up with their registration, I’ll be given the chance to fix it. It’s not like they just won’t be enrolled if I accidentally miss a form they needed to have. If I select the wrong type of washable, erasable, BPA and gluten-free markers (is that a thing??), my kids will not be expelled from school.

So, why am I so stressed out?

Obviously, part of my stress is due to my anxiety. I own that part. But there’s something else here — something that feels less like the fear of doing it wrong (anxiety) and more like the fear of being criticized (shame).

Being a mom is tough. We are expected to be perfectly attuned to our kids’ needs, to get all the checklists completed without a single misstep, and to do it with joy. Screw something up with registration? Careless mom. Get college-ruled paper when you needed wide-ruled? Inattentive mom. Show up late to Open House because your baby had a blow out before you could get everybody in the car? Inconsiderate mom. Many of us are juggling all of this while maintaining a job, or caring for younger children who aren’t in school yet, or dealing with health or disability issues that make these tasks so much harder.

No wonder we live in a state of constant stress and shame.

I would rather not deliver platitudes about finding peace during this time of year. That shit gets on my nerves. Sometimes, peace is just not realistic. Sometimes, you just have to accept that it sucks and keep going. What I do want to say is please give yourself grace. There are few things the world loves more than to judge a mom who can’t manage to be perfect. We can’t control what other people think. Just remember that judging or criticizing a mom who is trying her best, however imperfectly, says more about them than it says about you. Make sure you don’t internalize that judgement. Hold your head high. Work through your checklists slowly, giving yourself time and space to get it done in a way that doesn’t wreck you. If you screw up, take it in stride. Try to have a sense of humor about it. This time of year is exciting, and stressful, and a lot.

You’re doing great, mama. In case no one told you already.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.


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