Eliminate Back-To-School
mother with 2 children working on a laptop
By Renee Machel

ack to school…What does this mean for you specifically, though? Perhaps a stressor, a relief or maybe something in between? You may even enjoy shopping for school supplies. But there can be a dualistic nature to what you’re experiencing, where one aspect is something you like and another aspect brings you some level of anticipatory anxiety or registers as a dislike. One study has even shown that 60% of parents lose sleep during this season.1

This article will outline some practical strategies that I have found to be extremely helpful as a working mom that can make this school year your least stressful and most restful year ever! But first, let’s establish two big buckets that we’ll cover in this article, even though there are more: 1) Schedule and 2) Budget.

The overarching theme is to develop your personalized system guided by shared success and your family values. Once you have your unique system in working order, you can identify and solve other buckets of potential stressors.

I work my system from a proactive and reflective angle—journaling about what went well or what I’d like to have different next year. If you notice something mid-school-year, put a reminder on your calendar for the following year and start a running list on a Google doc that you can reference when the time comes.

Download, print and/or integrate your school calendars with your personal calendars in advance. If there are multiple parents or caregivers, everyone should be doing this. And even then, there may be something that falls through the cracks, but 99% of the things won’t. If something does, put your “friend” hat on and be kind to yourself; don’t beat yourself up mentally/emotionally over the oversight. Ask yourself what the next best move is to get it handled, and then keep your eyes forward so you don’t lose yourself in a guilt storm.

Communication with management and your family is paramount, so be up-front about your scheduling needs (for the whole year if you can). If you need to be there for the first day of school, need a day to prep or shop earlier in the month, or have already noticed early-release days that will require you to be present, mark these on your calendar.

Also be sure to discuss exceptions to the rules. For example, there may be days that require someone like your partner or a grandparent to fill in for something you would normally do, such as pick-up or drop-off, packing lunch, etc.

Google doc tip: If you can’t change your schedule for this year, put a reminder for next year if you want to be present for a certain occasion. For example, some people love a holiday concert, and others are like “pass.”

Pro tip: Ask the teachers and whoever manages in-app announcements to give you as far in advance notice as possible of upcoming tests and school events that wouldn’t be on the school calendar, like field day or class concerts.

For tests, you can set your kid up for success by having an empowering conversation to build them up. You may mention behaviors that don’t work in their favor, like forgetting the test is timed, but keep the focus on what they do really well to leave them feeling stress-free.

You’ll also be able to define and apply best practices that work for your family to ensure a smooth morning. What does that look and feel like for your family?

You could use this question to guide the whole year, busy weeks or test weeks. That could look like clothes are picked out, dinner is appropriate, sleep is quality, breakfast is protein-packed, etc. Have a backup plan in case something happens like the alarm doesn’t go off and your best plans go down the drain. This is yours to customize.

red backpack with folders inside
You’ll also be able to define and apply best practices that work for your family to ensure a smooth morning. What does that look and feel like for your family?
Here’s a big secret for school supply expenses: Check with your insurance company. Some health insurance companies have “value-added services,” meaning you have to make the call, but the resources are yours to take advantage of. The one I’m aware of in particular provides a $50 allotment for school supplies, and they offer tutoring.

As far as clothes and shoes, you know your area’s seasons and your kid’s growth rate (barring any spurts). Buy a couple of pairs of jeans in the next size up and grab a second pair of shoes a half size bigger for spring (catch a BOGO sale!) If you buy jeans at the start of the summer, you can often find clearance deals.

Do you know all those times that just sneak up on you? Like when you have to send something with your kid to share with their class, teachers’ gifts, birthdays or holidays. You can bulk buy or at least budget for when the time comes.

The budget will be for more than just dollars. It will be for time. Shopping and prep time can rob you of your energy—the real finite resource! So by chunking these and buying in bulk, you free up all the bandwidth it takes to manage these celebrations that seem to happen every time you turn around.

Tap into your Google doc to keep up with the list, and you can even apply GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology to organize the projects into actionable steps. You can keep notes year after year; maybe you want to do the same kind of gift/treat or something different.

If you are going to bulk-buy, create an account for a party store and make an e-shopping cart so you can purchase all of your supplies at once while seeing the total amount spent in one place. They’ll likely have seasonal goods all year round and bags to contain the items. Then you can organize it into boxes or reusable bags, label them and then store them in one area. Valentine’s Day next week? No problem, just grab and go!

Pro Tip: Guesstimate class sizes or teacher/admin staff counts based on the year prior and factor in an extra bag or more if the sizes vary greatly. If you are working on this in real-time or reflectively, chart your expenditure and gift themes. If you wait until the season arises to pack the stuff, refer back to your calendar in advance so you can carve out an appropriate time without losing sleep the night prior.

Mom Hack: I have the holidays listed out, and instead of trying to get the names of classmates, I use semi-generic address labels. I just design them on Canva and print: “To someone special,” or “To my friend. From Gavin,” or “Braeden had a birthday,” etc. You can add themed clipart next to the text. Just print for the number of students, and boom, no more writing on 15 Rice Krispies treats six times a year!

reducing stress
Any of these areas can be fun if you enjoy color-coding your calendars or shopping for school supplies. I encourage you to sink into that and really have a good time with it. If you dig something, don’t make it a “have to;” make it an “I get to.” On the mental/emotional/energy side, it will feel lighter. Want to include the kids? Great. Don’t want to include the kids? Great. Fill your cup first! Make it your own.

You are the assignor of meaning for the emotional signature these things carry; just because it’s stressful for someone else or that it used to be stressful for you, doesn’t mean it has to be for you now. It can be fun and lighthearted, if you choose it to be.

Journaling will help reveal the root of stressors rather than the surface problems. For example, it’s not about cleaning; it’s about the time spent away from the family in the evening. When you can examine those things on a deeper level, a better solution will reveal itself. It will also help you identify/define your values and evaluate if your family is living/operating in alignment with them or if you’ve strayed and need a reset.

Things you never thought were possible are within your reach. A reallocation of resources (time, money, awareness, good moods, energy, etc.) can provide a new level of personal freedom and connection. This is what shared success is all about as a unit. This can take some time to figure out and adjust into working order, and that’s alright. Think about the allergy pet or behavior pet when you educate their owner: “It may take a year for you/us to get this sorted out, but once we do, we’ve got a lifetime of smooth sailing ahead of us.”

Don’t be afraid of just researching things; window-shopping in a way. By knowing the exact cost of something like a housekeeper, you may be able to afford someone to come in right before the start of the school year or before the holidays to do a deep clean, or maybe you can do quarterly. It doesn’t have to be a live-in person or even weekly. Start where you are.

You might automate food deliveries just for a month or two. Maybe this happens at the end of the school year when you’re ready for summer, or maybe during summer when you want to spend less time thinking of menu items and shopping and more time playing in the water.

If school traffic is the bane of your existence, transform it. Utilize that time to have awesome talks with your kids, play car games with them on the way to school or listen to new podcasts after drop-off. Do something so that you and your kids look forward to the daily trips!

All of these things need customizing/personalization. When are your most stressful times? What about them makes them stressful? What can you delegate, automate or file away?

These are all just levers you can pull to make a uniquely designed system work for you, and take the stress out of Back to School!

  1. Weiss, S.R. (2019, July 30). 60% of parents lose sleep over the back-to-school season—here are 5 ways to avoid that. Motherly.
headshot of Renee Machel
Renee Machel is a nationally recognized wellbeing speaker, certified life coach, CYT 200 yoga instructor, mindfulness, and meditation guide. As the co-founder of Get MotiVETed she aims to provide a positive impact on people’s wellbeing and enhance the culture within organizations of vetmed. She has spent nearly 20 years in the veterinary industry as a hospital leader and technician. She shares her personal story of overcoming wellbeing struggles along with key teachings in managing both personal and professional development.