How Do Parents Really Feel About Back to School?

Me? I’m thrilled that my kids start school tomorrow and the day after.

I mean the summer was fantastic for my kids. Even though they had to be out of the house an hour earlier (than our usual school-time mornings) to get the bus to camp, their days were filled with fun and exploration. Each afternoon, they came home exhausted, filthy and happy. They ate their body weight in food for dinner each night, guzzled their milk and slept like babies. I absolutely believe they both grew a foot in height and gained a virtual pint of confidence and joie de vivre. Their bodies are toned, they have gorgeous tan lines and their hair is bleached. I look at them and see perfection, as only a mother does.

But I am beyond ready for a return to the regular routine of the school week. Our whole family needs the structure that the school week provides. My son in particular, given the latitude of the summer months and his tendency to take a mile if given an inch, really needs the grounding infrastructure – dare I say restraint? – of school: for him, the order and discipline of school helps to amplify and reinforce the behaviors we expect from him at home. For my daughter, starting kindergarten cannot come soon enough. She is extremely ready for this next stage in her journey. She is hungry to learn, eager to become “a big girl.” I am so incredibly excited for her.

And I wondered how other parents feel about this time of the year. Relieved and eager like me, I presumed? After all, I’ve seen tweets aplenty from other Moms expressing their bittersweet farewells to summer and their welcome embrace of the return to school.

So I decided to conduct some very informal, unscientific research among my networks and was actually surprised by the variety of responses. I asked parents to express from 1-10 how they feel about back to school, with 10 being the superlative (where I’m at.) Here’s some of what I heard:

0 – downright miserable:

I want them home with us and not have to get them up (which is torture for all of us) and then homework and routine and then we cannot go on trips and then we have to deal with the schools and then bus and I could go on, and the cold weather …

5 … reluctantly returning to reality:

The summer went by too fast! I want to play some more! I also don’t want to get back to the routine of rushing in the mornings, homework, sports and reality…..

8 … super excited:

I am super excited because my children are looking forward to school. It also gives one of the best people in my life some one on one time with my littlest one and hopefully more time for her to get everything that she wants to do, done ….

15 … (remember the scale was 1-10!):

The time has come. We need some structure back into our lives.

So, Moms and Dads, how do you feel? Will you be whooping and cheering as the school bus drives off or grumbling through the next few days?

Crossing My Fingers & Toes for Free, Full-Day Kindergarten

Like so many other local families, I’ve been watching the news out of each Framingham School Committee meeting as eagerly as episodes of Mad Men.

The good news is that it appears that everyone is in favor of implementing free, full-day kindergarten across Framingham’s elementary schools. The budgetary details have been worked out. All systems go?

But, wait, it still needs to be approved through the Town Meeting – and that meeting starts tonight!

Parents of five year olds across the town are waiting with baited breath.

Why does it matter so much to us? Here’s why it matters to me and my family:

  • Free – Who doesn’t like free? Truth is, we were prepared to pay for full-day as we did for our older son. In fact, the cost of full-day kindergarten felt like a huge discount compared to the cost of preschool. But for many, it’s not an option. Implementing free, full-day kindergarten will be a huge break for large numbers of families across town. Not just for their wallets but also for the two to three extra hours they’ll get (to work and/or organize busy lives) instead of having to pick up kids in the middle of the day.
  • Full-day – While we all acknowledge that “full” in this context is a misnomer, the fact is if we don’t get universal full-day, we get thrown into a lottery system and may end up with half-day. This element of uncertainty makes me very nervous. Having to wait till late May or even early June to find out makes me hyperventilate! If we don’t get full-day kindergarten, it will be a huge problem for our family. My husband and I both work full-time. Our son attends an after-school program that does not accommodate half-day kindergartners. Will we have to find separate transportation and care for our daugher? How will this all work logistically? How much extra will it cost? Is it even worth my working?

Of course, I’m coming at this from how this decision impacts me and my husband. But what about the kids? In my opinion, three hours of school barely counts as school, especially for those children that are already used to spending all day in a preschool setting.

So many questions, so much angst. I know I’m not alone in this. Please, Town Meeting people, do us all a favor and pass free, full-day kindergarten so we all know where we stand.

Yours with baited breath and clutching a brown paper bag,

One of Many Anxious Working Mothers

(This post originally appeared in the Framingham Patch.)

The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

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