Back-to-School Tips for Early Mamas

By Megan Yinger

I love the start of school. I’ll be that blunt about it, but I love when late August rolls around and it’s back to classes, papers, and new school supplies (oh, how I love school supplies). A major part of that affection stems from the fact that I adore learning and being part of a collaborative community, but the rest of it derives from routine. The lazy summer thing only works for so long in our household, at least for me, and I want to pull out my hair by mid-July.

However a new school year can be stressful. “Who is going to pick up this kid from soccer and drop that kid off at day care and OH MY GOD, WHAT IF I GET SICK AND THIS ENTIRE DELICATE BALANCE IS RUINED!”

Even for weirdoes like me, the new school year is bound to raise stress levels. I know you don’t have time to read a long tedious post filled with my brilliant philosophical ramblings about life-school balance, so I’ll provide you with a list of concrete things you (yes YOU!) can do in these last few weeks to help make a smoother transition into the school year:

1. Back it up

I mean this in two ways. First (and this goes for all students — parent or not), back up your documents and computer. Having a major computer meltdown, spilled apple juice, or other technological travesty will make it feel as though the world is crumbling around you. Invest in an external hard-drive or a program like Time Machine to save yourself a lot of hassle.

The other side of this advice is to have back-up plans for almost every situation.

You never know when the babysitter will get sick, your car tire will blow on the Interstate, or you'll contract a painful eye infection that prevents you from driving or using a computer (the last two actually happened to me, within two weeks of each other). Speak to people other than your normal babysitter who might be able to pinch-hit for night class duty or help out in a bind. Know who works or lives near your school in case you have car trouble. (For instance, my dad happens to work halfway between where I work and live. When I had a flat tire, I called him first.) Just having possible scenarios on hand can really put your mind at ease when things get a little (more) crazy.

2. Meal plan

I came up with a pretty useful system for meal planning this summer (which I posted on my blog), and I know it will easily translate to the school year.

In short, I wrote all of our go-to recipes on index cards and color-coded them by meat and grain ingredients so we don’t eat chicken and rice every day for a week (which has almost happened). We chose cards for the week, and then used them to make a grocery list. Not only does it save money, it also allows for an easier evening after class.

3. Invest in a quality water bottle

Remember when you were pregnant and you were supposed to drink all that water? That’s because it’s good for you! It's easy to let your health slide by the wayside, but drinking water is an easy way to keep your body on track.

On this same note, make time for your health. If your school has a gym, make time to go. Stay up-to-date with doctor and dentist appointments. Taking strides to stay healthy can allow you to stay focused on school and parenting — which is difficult enough.

4. Talk to your little ones

Understand this now: You will have to spend less time with your child, which is possibly the most difficult and guilt-inducing aspect of going back to school. My son spent his first year with either me or my husband because of our opposite work schedules — allowing us to spend a lot of time with him. Last summer, just before the start of school, I had a lot of anxiety about spending so much time away, either at my university or at home doing work.

It was a major distraction.

Finally my husband helped put everything into perspective. I was getting my Ph.D to help us achieve goals as a family — not to be selfish. My son is little enough to be adaptable, and old enough to at least understand that I’m doing something important. My sister, who watched him while I was at night class this summer, helped drive the point home that Mama was at school and that I would be back soon (she’s an amazing Pre-K teacher, as well as a super aunt). Now when I leave for school, he says “Mama school.”  It’s adorable.

5. Schedules rule

If you are going to graduate school after doing undergrad studies without a kid, the rules have changed. When I did my Masters, I got up at 11 a.m., went to school, worked, went to class, watched TV, and stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. doing work.  Repeat.

Obviously that is not an option any longer. It is important to carve out dedicated time to get things done. Set a day for laundry and other chores. Set a block of time each day at home in which you cannot be disturbed. Set time for family, not school.

For example: Saturday afternoons tend to be my weekend work time, but I reserve Saturday mornings for shopping with my mom. I don’t attempt to read while my son is awake during the day. (I may work on writing, but that is if he is well occupied with his toys or coloring). Naptime is for serious work, but I do not rely on it. Make sure your partner or babysitter is on board with these times, and then have at it.

6. Get organized

Student life can be crazy enough, but add a kid and family? That can be a recipe for chaos.

Before you start back, make sure you are organized. Have a place where you keep your school things, preferably out of the reach of small hands. You don’t want to show up to school without that book you needed, only to find it at home with all 120 colors of Crayola inside. Do what you must to keep things in order at home. I also organize my closet so I can easily pick out pulled-together outfits should I oversleep or have a crazy morning. The less time you spend looking for things, picking through things, and pulling your hair out over things, the more time you have to work hard at school and play hard at home.

Some of these may not be as applicable as others to you, but I hope you found something to help make life a little easier this year. In addition to being a student, my scholarship also requires me to put in so many hours of service and teaching each semester.

That said, juggling an undergraduate schedule with a child can be even more taxing, since there are more classes involved. Remember your goals and stay focused.

Have a great year!

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Do you have any tips for parents prepping for school? Leave your advice below!