I haven’t gone to school since 2000, but every September, I feel like it’s the beginning of a new year. I get butterflies in my stomach, just like I did when setting out my Gap paisley pants and matching sweater vest in 1991 before starting junior high. I’m seized by the urge to weed out old clothes, set out a new fitness regimen (ha) and improve myself. To be Excellent. To be a Success. This will be the year I finish my novel, lose 10 pounds, cook fresh meals for dinner every night, redecorate my house and organize a new budgeting system that will allow me to retire by 50!
By mid-September or so, my fitness routine has ended, my novel is shoved in the top drawer of my nightstand and I’m ordering takeout three nights a week.
And as a parent, the stakes are even higher. My wardrobe might devolve into yoga pants and my diet might return to sushi and burgers, but my kids actually have to go to school. I can hide in my house if I want to. But they’re out in the thick of it, every day, dealing with new peers, a new classroom and new pressures. Will they get along with their teachers? With the other kids? Will school start to get frustrating? Will there be bullies? (Check out this recent story by “Odd Mom Out” star Jill Kargman, who had to pull her 10-year-old from his swanky Manhattan private school due to an anti-Semitic incident. We’ve never had anything like that happen, yet, but it gives you pause. School can be a mean place.)
I asked parents around the Boston area what they’re most nervous about as the school year approaches. Here’s what they said.
“For my older child, who is headed to high school, I am nervous/anxious because it really counts now. His grades will become his official transcript when he applies for colleges. For my younger child, he is moving from a specialized program back into a large classroom, so I am anxious that his anxiety will impact schooling again as it did before we made the move. To be clear, I have no misgivings about the move and I trust the team’s recommendations, but I am still a little nervous.”
“That our son will insist on playing hockey. Hockey is a forbidden sport in our home, per the concussion and physical injury risk.”
“Not knowing who’s in your child’s class causes much anxiety. I remember being younger, and it always made me feel so much more comfortable knowing who would be in my class. Although some people are on Facebook and other social networks so we can find out this information, it really is one of the hardest things about going back to school for my son.”
“I’m anxious about before-school care! I need to be at work at 7:30, but school starts at 8….”
“Not being able to settle into a rhythm (neither my public school kid nor my day school kid) because of how early (and frequent!) all the holidays are.”
“Diseases/pests. We were pretty lucky with preschool, but for years I’ve been reading about stomach bugs, lice and other terrifying ordeals going through the public schools. We are now going to be part of the germ pool.”
“Other parents and cliques. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in high school, where the cool moms pair off and only socialize with one another. I try not to care because I’m in my 40s with daughters in middle school, but it still hurts when you find out third-hand about a gathering and realize that you never quite ‘broke in’ to the group.”
“My biggest anxiety going into the new school year is about teacher assignment: Will my child be placed with a teacher who will meet them where they are, push them in the right places and instill a love of learning? My biggest fear is that a mediocre/poor teacher will turn them off of school for an entire year, making the next nine months miserable for all involved and creating a mountain to climb in future years as we get them back on track.”
“Coordinating work, care and activity schedules.”
“I’m usually anxious until we set up schedules for activities and get into routines. After that, things are pretty much OK. Lately, I have tried to be a very low-key parent, and it definitely takes away a lot of the anxiety, especially when I see my kids are totally fine. Interestingly, I’m not worried about who will be in their class, and although I didn’t grow up in the U.S. school system, I find it positive because they will learn how to adapt and how to work with all kinds of people.”
“My eldest is starting kindergarten. I’m most anxious about how she will do socially: Will she have an easy time making new friends? Will the other kids be kind to her? Et cetera. I am also a little worried about our ability to get out of the house on time each morning.”
“Same as the last two years: middle-school girls.”
“Wondering whether my son will be up to grade level with reading and writing. Last year, his teacher noticed that he lagged and was able to get him seen by a specialist for a few months. He improved, but I think he got help because she was an attentive teacher. I’m afraid this year that his teacher won’t be as aware, and he’ll fall behind and get frustrated.”
“Making lunches. The school lunches are terrible.”
“My eldest is starting kindergarten and these are my biggest worries—Me: I am habitually late. Can I get to school on time? How will it work with finding parking and escorting my kindergartner to the door with my 3-year-old? Kid: She struggles with transitions and emotional regulation. And she is so sensitive. How will she handle the separation at drop-off? Will she actually eat during the 20 minutes allotted for lunch? What about catching the van to after-school? Existential: How will she do socially? Will kids notice she is gender non-conforming? When does bullying start, and will she be an easy target? Aaaahhhh, we are now forever tied to the school calendar!”
“Food allergy precautions at school!”
“My eldest is starting kindergarten this year. I’m anxious about our morning routine—I have no idea how we will get her to school on time! Plus we’ll be dropping her off in a different location from her younger brother for the first time. Less practically, and more deeply, I’m anxious that expectations in kindergarten won’t be appropriate for my young 5-year-old. Will she have enough time/space to move her body? Will they push academics too hard? I want her to love school—I don’t care if she’s reading in kindergarten. I’ve heard that schools here are better than some other places, but I’m deeply worried that public school won’t mesh with my priorities as a parent.”
And my all-time favorite:
“I wonder how much of our anxiety ‘for our kids’ actually isn’t relevant for those kids.”
Because, after all, what worries us might not trouble our children whatsoever. And there’s still plenty to worry about ourselves. Like dinner.