Dear Mom, School is Starting Soon. Are You Ready?

Dear Single Mom,

Even though you have spent most of your summer trying to keep what remains of your sanity, you may be dreading the thought that the back-to-school season is just around the corner. As a single mom, it’s hard to shift schedules, meet the upcoming school year demands, and get everything done.

You’re not alone. In fact, 11 million single parents* have children under the age of 18, and they’re all facing certain things they are dreading about the start of the school year.

Recently, we polled some moms and asked them what they like least about their kids going back to school. We also asked our supermoms to give us some pointers on how to make those things better.

Top 5 Things Mom Dread About Back-to-School

1. “Back-to-school shopping kills me in more ways than one.”

For moms, the school year doesn’t start on the first day of school. It starts when you get lists from teachers of supplies you need to provide for the classroom or when you realize most of last year’s shirts are now crop tops on your daughter or when your son’s sneakers don’t fit after a summer of only wearing flip flops.

This time of year can be expensive and challenging. In a back-to-school article on the Scary Mom blog, Rita Templeton describes her back-to-school shopping like this:

I’m the mom you see at the store, pushing a cart surrounded by excited children and being bombarded with cries of, “I need one of these! And one of those! And can I get the folders with Ninja Turtles on them?” while trying to consult multiple supply lists, while also trying to remember shoe and pants sizes and crying as I look at the total on a receipt that’s taller than my sixth-grader. I am a glutton for punishment, apparently.

The savvy moms among us say to stock up on school supplies and clothes throughout the year, so you’re not hit all at once when school starts. We know. Easier said than done.

2. “What’s for lunch?”

Yes, our school has an app where you can put money on your kids’ school lunch account and then they magically go through the cafeteria line without having to scrape up any change. But I never seem to have the money available to reload the app when it needs more funds and I can still pack lunch cheaper, especially when you consider my kids throw away 75% of their cafeteria food. But that means I have to PACK LUNCH. The worst.

Sometimes summer lunches look like cereal, sandwiches, ramen noodles, or something questionable from the fridge. But during the school year, many moms have to think about packing lunches. These are lunches that teachers and other kids see, so the judgment factor is involved. It has to appear to be at least semi-healthy, right? But how is that supposed to happen amidst the morning chaos?

The lunch packing tip is this: plan for the week ahead when you have the time. One savvy mom has two bins for each kid—one for the fridge and one for the pantry. She counts out 5 of everything on Sunday night and puts it in the appropriate bin. The fridge contains baggies or containers of easy things like hard-boiled eggs, pickles, cheese sticks, carrot sticks, and yogurts. The pantry container has individual bags of chips, pretzels, crackers, cookies, and other non-perishable items. The children can now easily help put items in their lunchboxes, which gives them a sense of responsibility. Sandwiches may be the only thing that takes effort in the morning, and sometimes those can be made ahead of time too.

3. “Time for bed!”

Summers are about staying up late and having flexible bedtimes, but I try to maintain a strict bedtime schedule during the school year. This can be a difficult transition, particularly if it’s still light outside when I send the kids to bed.

Getting back into a routine is never easy, but those habits will take hold again within a couple of weeks. The best mom tip is to start easing into the back-to-school routine now. If the kids are going to bed late, start telling them that 10:00 is going to be lights out now. If there is an order to prepare for bed, get that going again in early August. Then, gradually move the bedtime earlier and earlier until you’ve got them going to bed at the best time.

4. “Wake Up!”

Some kids are earlier risers. That’s not my kids. They love to sleep in and don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve stopped short of using a cattle prod to get them moving in the mornings.   

They really do need to develop a forklift for kids who don’t want to get up in the morning. But since that hasn’t been invented, one mom suggested giving plenty of time to “simmer” in the bed. If it’s not a fast process, build in time that allows it to be slow. Start with a happy “Good morning!” or “I love you!” and then let the light shine in the windows. It also is helpful to turn on upbeat music.

5. “I can’t find my shoes.”

I try to enforce taking off your shoes when you walk into the house so they stay by the door, but inevitably when it’s time to go, someone can’t find their shoes. It’s so frustrating. Especially when we’re running late.    

Oh, yes! The curse of the missing items. If it’s not the shoes it’s the homework, backpack, jacket, or toy for show-and-tell. It’s not easy, Mom, but the only way to avoid this morning trap is to make sure everything is ready and beside the door the night before. It’s best when you can get the kids to check off their list and make sure they’re ready to go to before they head to bed.

Those are the Top 5, but other back-to-school stressors include:

  • The dreaded pick up and drop off lines because you wanted to sit for an hour in your car.
  • Regular baths and showers, because school kids should be clean.
  • Laundry, because clothing should also be clean—and uniforms are the worst!
  • Homework, because you didn’t have anything else to do in the evenings.
  • Obligatory volunteering and attending events, because that’s what good moms do, right?

Considering all these things, maybe the summer hasn’t been so bad after all.

Being prepared is an important part of motherhood, single or not, but it is especially key when you are going it alone as a parent. While being a single mom can be tiring, it is also extremely rewarding

Here at Shepherd’s Village, we know firsthand the struggles you are up against. The battles, the fears, and the frustrations are real. There is no doubt about it, single mom life is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work, courage, and more energy than you might think you have. But we know you can do it!

During these days before school starts, keep your focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Take things one day at a time and thank God for the blessings you have in your life. Reject the idea of negative self-talk and remind yourself today that you ARE enough.

*According to 2018 U.S. Census Bureau, out of about 11 million single-parent families with children under the age of 18, more than 80% were headed by single mothers.