Unfounded parenting guilt on the first day of school

In my four years as a parent, I have not found one person who thought that they had it together all of the time.  I have met some folks who project a put-together image and I have met some folks who never seem like they have things under control.  I fall squarely in the middle–not totally put-together and not falling apart. Solidly okay.

As a parent, it’s normal (and expected) that not a day passes when you wonder if you’ve just gone and screwed everything up for your child.  Of the approximately 1,642 days I have been a parent, there is at least one moment every day where I question what I’m doing.  Am I messing this up? Forget this crazy world we live in–will my kids survive me as their parent?

Navigating parenthood and academia presents a whole new set of challenges.  Even though for the better part of the last ten years, my life has followed an academic calendar, I’m feeling especially unsettled with the change of the school year. It is a time of transition in our family.  I am no longer starting the school year as a graduate student.  I am now a (temporary) faculty member. The girls are starting a new preschool, leaving our other school where we’ve brought them since they were each six months old.  Before we can even start the year off right, our Jewish holidays fall right in the middle of these new transitions.  

Though it’s a transition for everyone, my new juggling, balancing, working life feels out of control.  This year’s first day of school feels different to me.  I feel pulled in many directions. I feel bogged down with work. I feel nervous and excited for the coming academic year. I never thought I would be such a baby about the kids switching preschools, but apparently, I’m a crier.  And I’m not a cute crier. So the first impression I’m making to many faces is a stressed out, weepy mess.  Okay, it’s not that bad.  Really, though, I feel mostly unprepared, like I’m putting the worst version of my self forward.

But the summer is over, and I also feel sad because in the summer, I get to be full-time-ish mom.  And being full-time-ish mom is mostly awesome. We splash around the pool and explore the playground. We sing together in the car. We have inside jokes that send us into hysterics.  I discover this silly, carefree side of myself when I am a work-in-the-home parent.

When school starts, it’s back to reality for everyone.  Except just before school starts, our precious routine, or lack of routine, brings out the very worst in all of us.  All of a sudden, the late nights, the extra ice cream, the amusement park rides, the fireworks, the playground trips, all bring out the very worst in my children and subsequently in me. They’re beyond over-tired and for once they’re speechless with fatigue and frustration. They bicker and whine endlessly.  Just before they begin their school year at daycare and preschool, they are driving me insane.  And I am reminded that being a work-out-of-the-home parent isn’t so terrible after all.

And then the guilt creeps in. I feel guilty that I am not home with them.  And I feel guilty that my syllabi sit unfinished on my desk at work.

This time of year, the start of the school year, is tough on everyone.  After a summer without structure, suddenly kids and their grownups find themselves back on a schedule, back in a routine, and getting back into it takes time.

Talk to me in two weeks. I’m pretty sure we’ll be in the swing of things and this unsettled day will feel like a distant memory, just like fourth of July fireworks.

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About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in family, kids, lessons learned, motherhood, parenthood, personal, schools, summer, Uncategorized, vacation, work. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Unfounded parenting guilt on the first day of school

  1. I can’t directly relate to this because I’m not a mom. But I can definitely empathize with getting back into structured life and scheduling. I’m returning to my undergrad degree very soon after I had to take a year’s leave of absence to be a caregiver for my mother who was seriously ill last year.

    I’m looking forward to getting back to my degree and now that my mother has almost recovered, my stress level should (hopefully) be a lot less this academic year than it was last year! At the same time I’m feeling slightly nervous about readjusting to university life. But you’re right….once we all get into the swing of things I’m sure everything will run smoothly.

  2. Pingback: A very merry un-birthday to Rogue Cheerios! | rogue cheerios

  3. Pingback: Forging ahead: reflections on the first non-grad school semester | rogue cheerios

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