Back to School (Part 4): Get a Grip

This week I’m writing a five-part series on common back-to-school stressors and what we can do to make this transition easier.

So far I’ve written about ways to save money, to stay organized, to stay healthy—but what about ways to stay sane?

Each year when our family reaches the end of our summer downhill coast and throws it into low gear to begin the climb that is the school year, I get a little bit crazy. I feel it now, as I’m writing this. Just a touch of nuts.

Perspective, my friends, that’s what I lack. That ability to zoom out and look at the situation from the big picture, to remember the lessons I’ve learned in years past (always the hard way), to take a deep breath and calm myself down. Instead, I get bogged down in endless to-do lists and a general low-lying buzz of anxiety.


Since this area is my personal back-to-school Kryptonite, I asked Austin therapist (and friend) Katharine Barnhill to weigh in on what parents can do to retain perspective during this stressful time. Katharine, who has children of her own about to head back to school, also faces the same challenge.

“I frequently remind myself that the burden of over-analyzing everything is a modern-day curse, and doesn’t always serve us, or our families, well. The research really does show that being a ‘good enough parent’ is the goal, and the researchers’ definition of ‘good enough’ is probably lower than mine. So the best thing I can do is focus less on solving all my kids’ problems and more on getting my brain to relax, because our kids feed off of us,” said Katharine.

When my oldest son started kindergarten, my brain was the opposite of relaxed. It seemed such a huge and momentous life hurdle that I actually forgot he was still a little kid. I called my mom so sad that my job as a mother was now obviously over. She had to remind me about helping with tricky homework problems and sticky social situations, about packing lunches and nursing back to health, and about discovering hidden talents and developing that unique voice that belongs to my son and my son alone.


One of the most common worries that plagues parents during this time of year is that their children will have a difficult time at school, when the parents won’t be there to help them. Katharine says she can relate.

“I remind myself that the challenges my kids face are the same experiences that help them grow and expand, and I remind myself that not being able to do everything for them is actually a gift to them, because it gives them space to figure out who they are,” she said.

When my daughter started kindergarten, I wrung my hands at what would surely be an impossible transition for my quiet girl who so loved her bed and her dolly. She had spent most of her five years of life at home with me—like I had with my mom so many years ago. I struggled with the social aspect of kindergarten, and I assumed my daughter would just the same.

So on day one of kindergarten, when she mentioned two girls she had met, I was thrilled. On day two, when she waved good-bye to several kids, I began to think I might have misjudged the situation. And on day three, when a small group shouted her a merry good-bye as she ran happily to me, I knew I’d gotten it all so very wrong.

It’s so hard for me to hold on to perspective at this time of year. I forget—each year just the same!—that what seems chaotic now will seem normal in a month, that my kids will make friends, and that we’ll all pull through. Katharine says it’s normal, though, which brings me some solace. Now we all just need to make it through the next few weeks!

(I know some people are better at this sort of thing. Are you one of those people? Do you have any words of wisdom to help us hand-wringers? Or are you a ball of nerves yourself?)

© Amy Daniewicz

Back to School Survival Guide
Back to School (Part 1): Start With the Basics
Back to School (Part 2): Plan It Out
Back to School (Part 3): Save Your Dollars
Back to School (Part 5): The First Day

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