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Fighting Back-to-School Anxiety the Scary Mommy Way

Morgan Kelly
Aug. 9, 2011

Jill offers her tips as part of the Care.com Interview Series

Jill Smokler is a top-rated mommy blogger who entertains 700,000 monthly page visitors over at ScaryMommy.com with humorous and satirical commentary on her life as a wife and mother of Lily (7), Ben (5) and Evan (3).

Like most other things, Scary Mommy believes that being too prepared for anything can lead to disaster, including the back-to-school season.  Smokler talked to Care.com about the ways that she's learned to cope with this stressful, and often anxiety-ridden time of year.

5 Tips from Scary Mommy for fighting Back-to-School Anxiety:

1.  It's ok to ignore your kids: "I wrote a blog post about how my secret to parenting is that I ignore my kids and it's actually kind of true!" Smokler says. By leaving her kids to their own devices and not making a huge deal out of strict routines or rigid bedtimes, Smokler finds that her kids are actually quite adaptable and well-adjusted little humans. Thus, they don't get too bent out of shape about change, like the new school year.

2.  Don't live in denial: The time is going to come when summer ends and "the party is over." Talk about school and trick your kids into learning over the summer so that once school arrives, they don't have an absolute meltdown over the end of lazy days with no school work whatsoever. Also, set up some play dates with the kids whose parents you like so your child has some first-day buddies.

3.  Leave and don't look back: Staying in the classroom for just five more minutes never works and it will actually make your day, and your child's day, harder. While exhausted from caring for a newborn, Smokler found goodbyes much easier when she thought, "Sorry kid, but you have to deal with this because I have to go home and go to bed!"

4. Feeling like a bad parent? Use technology: Getting into the car while your precious offspring is clawing at the classroom window isn't always easy. To stop from crying herself once home, Smokler sends an email to the teacher to confirm that the hysterics are over. They always are.

5.  Be the Scary Mommy in class: Nobody wants to be the annoying parent in school, but Smokler says to let those worries go and be an advocate for your kids. Ask for the teacher you want and address any specific issues with the teacher or principal. They're you're kids and you still have the right to some control even when they're in someone else's hands.

Read the full interview with Scary Mommy for more tips on how she copes with Back to School Anxiety in her house! You can also Find Scary Mommy on Twitter.

How do you tame the chaos in your house?

I don't think I do! Having two in the house is a lot less chaotic than having three in the house. They're good kids though and they sort of know what's expected of them. They get wild and out of control but I shoot them a look or take away TV or some sort of incentive and they get back in line. I wouldn't say it's terribly well organized, but it's organized enough that we've all survived thus far.

What was it like for you when your oldest child went to school for the first time?

You know, I loved it. I feel like I should say it was so hard and she was the first one and I cried. I didn't. I was really happy to have some help. Lily started preschool when I had a newborn and I was so grateful to have some time to myself to sleep when he slept and not be taking care of another child at the same time. Lily didn't have the easiest time, though. I remember leaving her crying and because I was just so exhausted from caring for the baby, it was just sort of "Sorry kid, but you have to deal with this because I have to go home and go to bed!" It was a good thing for both of us, I think.

How is your family preparing for the first day of school?

Well, for me, I'm counting down the seconds! But really, we do talk about school. The kids are excited. Lily is going into second grade and she's very studious and excited so it really doesn't take much preparation.  My middle, Ben, is starting kindergarten so he's a little nervous about that so we are trying to have play dates and keep him seeing the kids he's going to be in school with so it doesn't come as a shock.

And my youngest, Evan, unfortunately seems to be going through a bit of a separation issue at the moment so I'm thinking it's going to be a rough start in the fall so we'll see how that goes. He's gone through something similar months and months ago but he's been fine for probably 9-10 months. But, just in the last week or so, I can't leave his sight. He has a fit. I dropped him off for swim lessons and he just sobbed the entire time. Anytime I'm out of his sight, it's "But Mommy, I love you!", "But Mommy, I want you!", "But Mommy, I need you!" And I'm like, "Yes! I love you too but I'd like to pee without you on my lap!" So I'm thinking it's going to be a rough transition for him but there's no other choice than to just jump into it.

Is it hard for you to leave him when he's upset like that?

I'm a sucker, especially for Evan because he's the baby and he's my last and I want to keep him the baby for as long as possible so I have a hard time. But, there are times when I need to leave the house and there's a babysitter when I'll leave with him screaming and I'll want to get in the car and cry myself. It's awful. But it's great now that I can text my babysitter and say, "How is he?" and get the confirmation that two minutes after I left, he stopped crying and he's having a blast and I can move on with my day. Until I get that confirmation, it's very hard to rub it off.

How do you cope with leaving a sad kid at school in the morning?

You know, there are moms who just stay in the classroom and end up being there for several hours. I've done that with Evan where I've gotten stuck staying for story time and snack time and then it's even more traumatic when I have to leave three hours later. I really think you just need to get them in there, tell them you love them, say goodbye and leave. And then, check in with the teacher. I just love technology that I can stay in touch by email. If he hasn't stopped crying all day and he was just a wreck, I don't want him in school and I'm sure they'll let me know. I think it's just about getting into a routine and letting them know that you'll see them at the end of the day like you always do and just walk out the door. Don't look back, don't keep peeking through and seeing them sniffle, it's just going to tear at your heart strings. Just drive away and call or email to check in if you need to.

How do you prepare for the school day?

I do everything the morning of. I get up much earlier than my kids. I'm usually up by 4:30 or 5 because I can't sleep so I leave everything for the morning. I don't even do the dishes from the night before, I don't clean up from dinner, I just leave the kitchen and wake up early to get everything cleaned up, put away, lunches made, clothes out, all that stuff. It works for me.

What do you pack for lunch?

Peanut Butter and Jelly is my go-to lunch. This year, there might be some peanut allergies in school so we'll have to think of some new lunches. My kids are very much creatures of habit and they've been eating that for years.

What's been the hardest part about having school-aged kids?

Homework is the hardest thing to get used to. For us and for them, I think. Lily started getting homework in kindergarten so going from reading books for fun, doing things on our own schedule, and teaching her in the moment to really learning from a textbook and dealing with the frustrations has been a big adjustment.

What steps do you take to prepare your kids for school to ease any anxiety they might feel?

I probably don't do everything that I could do. I suppose I could drive to school and remind them of the route. I'm more of the "fly by the seat of my pants" type of parent. We'll deal with it when we get there and they've always been fine with that. We are doing some workbooks and computer games over the summer to make it not such a shock when they go back, though. Last summer, I didn't do that and our whole summer was fun and cool and filled with adventures so it was such a rude awakening to go back to school.

What advice do you wish you'd been given before having school-aged kids?

Don't be afraid to be an advocate for your kids. I just now am starting to get the confidence to call the school if I'm having problems with the teacher, to really address it or request a certain teacher if I think they will mesh the best with my kids. It took me a couple of years to just sort of feel like I wasn't going to be that awful, annoying parent and I didn't want to bother them. Then, it just sort of clicked. They go to a school that I pay for and they are there for a reason. If I'm having issues, then I can stand up for my kids and call and address them instead of just sitting by and letting things happen the way they happen.

For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Back-to-School.

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