The first day of school can be a nightmare. Prepare yourself for tearful breakdowns at the school gates, packed lunch rivalry, bitchy comments about clothing choices and panic over being summoned to meet the teacher…and that’s just the parents.
While there’s a ton of advice out there on how to give your kids the First Day pep talk and prep them for the harsh reality of life in the classroom (no, Johnny, you may not squish all the plasticine into a big brown ball like you do at home, and if you pee on the table it will draw comment…), there’s precious little help out there for all us mommas suffering the heart wrenching sensation of sending our offspring into the abyss.
Which is where our guide to preparing YOURSELF for the first day of school (or pre-school, or creche, delete as appropriate…) comes in. You can buy us a juice box later.
1. Parental separation anxiety is a real thing. As much as we might relish the idea of all those kid-free hours spent in gainful employment, taking long lunches or just taking an afternoon nap, the reality is that we’ll probably spend a large part of the time dripping snotty tears onto our smartphones as we look at the reams of photos we took back when they were still our babies (yesterday afternoon). Include some stats about parental anxiety.
2. Learn to say goodbye– sounds like an overblown Hollywood tearjerker, but you need to be able to walk away even if one or both of you are in tears. Some pre-schools have an adaptation period where parents can spend the first hour or so with their young children and gradually absent themselves. This works for some people, but just don’t let the adaption period end up dragging out for a fortnight, during which the other kids start treating you like a classroom assistant (yeah, ok, that was me taking my clingy child to pre-school in Brazil, learn from my poor parenting decisions, people!)
3. Be ready for packed lunch politics. Prepare for your snack choices to become a source of intense scrutiny. Not only will the kids pile on the pressure to have strong lunch game, but there’s also a whole lot of judging opportunity from other parents who may feel compelled to inform you about why they include/exclude sugar/salt/lactose/gluten/fruit/oxygen. Whatever you decide to give them, somebody will be on hand to tell you it’s wrong. The pressure should drop off once everybody gets bored of judging other people’s food choices.
4. Find your school gate allies – British writer Gil Sims sums it up well in her painfully funny novel Why Mummy Drinks, when her protagonist refers to running the gauntlet of the ‘Coven of Bloody Perfect Mummies’ dropping sideways glances at her unkempt hair and attempting to top each other in the lunchbox/vacation/kiddy fashion stakes. Find the mums that look like they’re on your wavelength and shamelessly buddy up. Safety in numbers
5. Vent – talk to other parents in your social circle about how they felt, vent your fears and frustrations over a wine and whine session, or just find a sympathetic tribe of online parents and open up there. Wouldn’t you tell your kids that bottling up their emotions won’t help? Well there you go then.
6. Steel yourself for breakfast breakdowns and mysterious rapid-onset illnesses. Even if the kids have been confident in the run up to the first day, there’s every chance they might have a major last minute wobble, or develop a serious case of any illness they can think ok. Nervous tummy may be a thing, but unless they’re actually vomming or can’t get off the loo, it’s best to try and keep calm and carry on. If you’re really worried, let the school know your concerns and ask them to call you if anything seems up.
7. Promise yourself a treat Yes kids often get a treat after the first day, but hey, you deserve one too. Even if it’s just getting to read a book for half an hour for the first time in a billion years or going to the toilet with the door closed for a bloody change.
8. Prep like a boss everything ready. Try to identify and eliminate as many potential stress factors as possible – have your coffee ready to brew, time your route in advance, have clothing ready to go (yours as well as theirs, you’re unlikely to feel calm and in control if you’re frantically looking for a top that doesn’t have food stains on it). Make sure you know where your keys are the night before. Obviously we all now that even planning with military precision can rarely prevent everything turning into a massive shitshow for some new and unexpected reason, but you canat least eliminate the prime stress suspects.
9. Have a trial separation. The less time you’ve spent apart from the fruit of your loins, the harder the wrench is going to be for both of you. Seek out opportunities to leave them with grandparents/friends/the free creche at IKEA…wherever you can, take the opportunity to dump them on somebody else in the name of pre-preparation as you build up to D Day.
10. Get the gossip. Instead of just asking them what they did at school, ask them about the other kids – who cried, who puked, who seems cool, who seems like a pain in the ass, who said what to whom…try and put faces to the names of their new social circle, as this info is likely to be at least as important to them as correctly labelling a picture of a rabbit or learning to color inside the lines.