Back to School (Part 5): The First Day

This is the final post in a five-part series on common back-to-school stressors and what we can do to make this transition easier.

When one part of a cycle comes to a close and another begins, there is always that moment in between when time seems to fold over on itself and both the old and the new are competing for space—when the whole doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.

That is how I feel every back-to-school season. Summer is winding down and families are trying to squeeze in one last trip to the beach, to the pool, to the arcade. And at the same time, school is beginning, which means all the things we’ve discussed over the last four parts of this series: back-to-school shopping, phasing in new routines, and dealing with fears and anxieties.

Now add to that the myriad of emotions that accompany the change: the sadness over the end of the freedoms of summer, the excitement for a change of pace, the nervousness that always comes with a new major experience, the hope for all the possibilities of the coming year, and the relief that your kids’ energy will finally have somewhere to go.

It’s enough to make even the most put-together person feel pulled in a million directions.

Austin therapist Katharine Barnhill remembers her daughter’s first day of school: “I was basically living in the extremes. I fought back tears as she walked into her class; she looked so little and innocent next to the big kids running by. (Did that fifth grader just elbow her?!) My heart swelled with pride and also filled with daggers as she quickly left my side and gave a quick wave good-bye. Other kids were crying, but she seemed just fine to start this new adventure. Yay! and Boohoo! At home I was giddy when I realized that having two kids at home really does feel like less than having three kids at home. Then I felt guilty because I was doing just fine without her! And then I picked her up and was disappointed when she couldn’t tell me a single thing about her day. Me: “Did you have fun?” Her: “Yeah.” Me: “What did you do?” Her: “Huh?” Me: “Did you learn anything new?” Her: “Yeah.” You get the idea . . . .”

Tip #1: Accept the fact that your child’s first day is going to be a roller coaster for you.

Transitions are an inevitable part of life and they’re always challenging, so we might as well just surrender to the experience. And of course your first time is always the hardest. Katharine says, “Nothing brings out the big feelings like milestones and transitions. I encourage parents sending their oldest to kindergarten to embrace the range of emotions that surface on the first day of school.”

You’ll most likely be up, down, and everywhere in between—only to start the ride all over again. But just as with all of life’s stresses, these emotions are easier to bear if you don’t have to go it alone.

Tip #2: Seek out support to help you through this transition.

A helping hand or supportive shoulder can pull you out of your own isolated suffering and bring you into a circle of support.

By reaching out to other parents and close friends—through phone calls, emails, lunches, happy hours, or late night trips to the coffee shop—we can share a laugh, vent our stresses, brush away a tear or two, and feel our burden lighten. When we listen to the similar experiences of others, we are reminded that this transition is a natural, organic part of life and we are not alone.

Tip #3: Embrace the new opportunities this change may open up for you.

I’m experiencing this change on the other end of the spectrum: this is the year my youngest starts kindergarten. This is the first time in 10 years that I will have the time, energy, and ability to focus necessary to pursue my own dreams and goals.

I feel like I have been gearing up for this change for almost a year, through talks (sometimes stressful) with my husband about whether I need to get a job, and through my own personal planning process (which at times has led me round in circles) to figure out what it is I want from my future. I have spent so much energy anticipating what I keep describing as the biggest change to my life in a decade (such an exaggeration—I can be so overly dramatic!), that now I’m spent, but at the same time I’m excited to see what’s in store for me.

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to put this change behind me. I always feel better once we get over that first day. Then we can let go of all the old stuff and move on to what’s next. Let’s get this school year started already!

© 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 4): Get a Grip

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