The back-to-school routine is something that consumes all of September because it’s such a drastic change for the family. The Humane Society reports that family members are so overly stressed during this process that family pets also become stressed.

Resetting your body clock is no small feat, but since all family members must run their schedules around the school day, the whole family needs a full month to fully reset their bedtime and wake time. This is most difficult for teens because the body clock of a teenager naturally shifts to later bed times and later wake times. Which means the start time for school is so difficult that it causes health problems throughout the school year.

This ad from Staples nails the mentality that parents need to have at back-to-school time. The mom is trying to buy school supplies, and her two boys are fighting in the aisle behind her. Presumably she dealt with her kids fighting all summer, but now, when it’s time for school, suddenly she is incapable of dealing with her kids. That’s what parents have to believe when they send their kids back to school:  school will be better at taking care of them.

(Interesting tidbit: Sibling pairs ages 3-9 fight once every 18 minutes, and psychologist Laurie Kramer says this is an important aspect of developing healthy sibling relationships.)

The Tulsa Health Department recommends that parents get up before the kids and get everything ready so that the morning goes more smoothly.  (Which means many parents would have to get up at 5am. Which means the parents would have to go to bed at 9pm, which means the parents wouldn’t be able to help with homework, which often goes beyond 9pm, but that’s for another post.)

The back-to-school process is also the process of school officials reminding you that they are in control and you are the dumb parent trying to keep up with their demands and failing. The National Association of School Psychologists tells parents to “postpone business trips and volunteer meetings” during the beginning of the school year. And they tell parents how to cook dinner in advance.

Really? People need psychologists to tell them how to cook dinner? That’s the clincher for me. Back-to-school is getting back to the mentality that you are not capable of managing your own family when you send your kids back to school.


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11 replies
  1. Jill
    Jill says:

    Penelope, spot on as usual. I’ve always unschooled my 3 kids, 11, 8, and 5 and can’t wait for september back-to-school so we can have our city back! Though it’s tough to witness the bustle of this ritual among the sad and heavy hearts. Kids are miserable, parents are relieved but ultimately miserable with all the added chaos that schools vomit into their lives… Do they not know school is a choice?? One to opt out from when you examine its reality.

  2. Gena
    Gena says:

    Do you know what’s another crazy part of going back to school? 3 school kid moms have mentioned to me with horror: figuring out kids activities. They’ve spent weekends trying to optimize a kid’s schedule: everything from locations, timing, food, driving to perception and quality of dance, gymnastics, karate, piano, sports and other lessons! So that after school, after not seeing their child for so many hours, they quickly throw them some food and drive to sit and wait for them in the lobby or wherever and talk to other parents. To me this is just so sad. We have even been part of the frenzy over the years, but as we see less and less value, we’ve thankfully refocused and stayed with only the most meaningful to us, on our own terms. And even then took a few years; getting rid of fear of missing something important and seeing what kids discovering their passions for themselves really looks like.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:

      Gena, the afterschool activity business around here is pretty nuts. I’m struck by it too. Not only did I not have to bring anybody’s pencil but my own to school when I was a kid, almost nobody had scheduled activities after school. Now almost all kids do, which means there are no kids just hanging around after school playing with each other, which is a vicious circle.

      The window is so small if you want to get your kids doing something after school and before dinner. I remember one year I had one thing scheduled for my son MWF and another TTh in that tiny time slot, and then the MWF decided to change the schedule and it all fell apart. I know families who never eat dinner together. I just can’t do that.

      Right now, I get to take my daughter to gymnastics class at 1PM, instead of after school. I pay less and she has a private lesson for less than the price of a group lesson that’s mobbed and on the other side of a traffic jam. I’m not looking forward to this privilege ending.

      Right now, my son’s schedule is kind of inside-out: most of what he does through the year would be called “enrichment” in the school paradigm. Music, art, theatre, sports, book clubs, Spanish class, field trips… If he goes back to school next year as he plans to, he will do so much less of this.

      I have to support my son’s choices, I just have to. What’s the point of letting your kid take the lead in his education if you won’t let him do things you think are mistakes? But I’m sure not looking forward to an end to mid-week skiing trips.

  3. Jeff Till
    Jeff Till says:

    In our town, the walk in health clinics expand their back-to-school hours in August/September to meet the demand for writing ADHD type drug prescriptions.

    The kids are apparently not crazy/sick during the summer.

    Loved your appearance on Isaac Morehouse’s podcast, Penelope!

  4. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    If you want to get up before your teenagers, it would really have to be around 5AM. When I was in high school, clubs met before school and sports met afterwards. This meant that every single day, I was out the door by 6AM and back home around 5:30PM (or way later if it there was a track meet or tennis match that day).

    My mom made me a lunch and usually a snack the night before. There were several days where I never saw either parent unless they attended one of my sports events (though they made a big effort to do a family meal for anyone who didn’t have sports).

    Of course, this happened in the summer too- I just replaced school work with a job, and morning clubs with weight lifting, but at least I had more downtime.

    One of my goals as a parent is to figure out a way to see my kids as teenagers. I hope that they will want to homeschool all the way through high school.

  5. sarah
    sarah says:

    Enjoyed the sibling article. Having grown up an only child (my siblings are 12 years younger and live with my dad, while I lived with my Mom full time ) I often am puzzling out how to help the kids be friends. My husband and his siblings fought all the time. They are semi close, we only live 22 hrs away from them….I really think so much boils down to the parents involement on teaching the kids to get along. Fighting is not an option in my house, although it is harder with the special needs kid-o. I worked so hard to help my older three be friends and I love their relationship now, but had we not homeschooled, it would not be there. By home schooling we are forced to be around eachother 24/7 (feels like it ) and have to figure it out. There is no escape. Maybe that is the key to sibling relationships : everyone in the family being forced to work it out. It is a group effort instead of being between the two.

  6. Ellen Hawkins
    Ellen Hawkins says:

    It’s crazy to think how many years of not only a child’s life are dictated, controlled, and dominated by the school’s requirements, but the parents’ lives as well. When you look at it from the view of total cumulative years endured in the school system by a family with two adults and two kids, it’s absolutely insane. Why do adults who can see the harm this does put up with it over the course of so many years? I think it is that very few can handle the personal freedom inherent in homeschooling, but once you’ve experienced it, you never want to return to being educationally-dependent on the school system.

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    A friend of mine shared her son’s back to school list for 5th grade with me. One of the most bizarre requests, besides the fact that it was about $100 worth of supplies, was that each student needed to have 36 sharpened pencils. 36!!!! Per kid!!! Both of my older kids sketch for a few hours every day, and in the last year I think they have only gone through ten pencils for the both of them.

    Another friend shared that in the back to school list included a letter requesting $500 per student to help with after school programs (this is a rich district and she is only in that district because of winning a lottery based on her low income). She has two kids in that school, and can barely make rent, so she is already feeling all sorts of pressure as well as feeling like she doesn’t belong because her kids are on the free lunch program.

    I read this quote in a recent article and thought it made a lot of sense, especially with the 36 pencils example. Actually, it sounds exactly like something I would say.

    “In his book, Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner explains that the current education model is not teaching children what they need to know to thrive in today’s world. …. It is simply because the academic model is obsolete and outdated. Wagner believes the rising generation needs passion, creativity and purpose above all else—skills that, Wagner contends, cannot be facilitated within the current system.”

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      Last year at this time I fell for the idea that I couldn’t take care of my kids, like I had been doing well for 5 years then all of a sudden that Monday I needed my daily rhythm, discipline and curriculum to get me through the next 8 months. Even though it was Waldorf and pretty much mimicked what we had been doing all along, the etheric in our house was full of someone else ruling our days…me the books the rules and the kids…me. So that tanked and I was lost. Then I started to read john holt stuff as well as this blog and anything unschool related, cause I needed a philosophy to back up what was naturally the best “method” for us. While mourning for my own education that totally sucked (artist hidden away in everything else) I started to just let go and basically do nothing. Unschooling has allowed me time to be who I actually am, instead of being a teacher all day. It even gives me space away from being a mother which is neat and unexpected. I feel like I’m reclaiming my own education while giving them the one they deserve. This year the transition has been better. There is none.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Yes! I have found that unschooling not only benefits my children, but it also benefits me as a person. The only thing that got in my way of living, learning, and self-discovery when I was school-aged, was school! I still need to deprogram from time to time.

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