I’m not new to sending my kids to school. My oldest has been in preschool for the last two years, and it’s largely allowed me to keep my freelance writing career afloat. But he’s starting kindergarten in the fall, and honestly, I’m struggling.
Unlike our preschool schedule, kindergarten is every day, and there are rules and guidelines for attendance, too. It just seems so permanent. When I found myself crying in the store as I was shopping for school supplies, I knew it was time to come up with a game plan to deal with this huge life change. Here’s how I’m coping with sending my child to kindergarten for the first time, with tips from a mental health expert if you’re feeling the same way.
How to Cope With Sending Your Child Off to Kindergarten
Leaning Into the Feelings
When I found myself getting emotional over number two pencils, I knew I had some big feelings about my son starting kindergarten. That’s normal, Sarah Baroud, a LICSW based in Massachusetts explained. “It’s okay and normal to grieve the last chapter of your parenthood journey,” she said. “Finding someone else in the same position may help give you a place to talk and share what you’re going through.”
So I’ve allowed myself to feel those tough feelings and talk them over with friends or my partner—but in private. The last thing I want is for my son to observe any negative feelings I have about him starting kindergarten.
“Be sure to work through your feelings with your partner, friends, or therapist and try to keep those more difficult emotions from interfering in your child’s process,” Baroud said “Being a mom is only one part of your identity, not all of it. It’s a good time to consider other parts of yourself that you may have put aside in recent years.”
Embracing New Hobbies
I’ve been a work-from-home mom with limited childcare for the last five years, only taking breaks for maternity leave or the occasional summer hiatus. I’ve been balancing the duties of full-time caretaker of two small children, a freelance writing career, my half of keeping up with the house, focusing on my marriage, and you know, occasionally showering and finding time for self-care. In short, there hasn’t been a lot of time for hobbies.
So I’ve started exploring my interests outside of being a mom or my work. I’ve started doing yoga twice a week. Not only is it nice to do something just for me, it’s dramatically lowered my stress level, as well. I’ve also started rehabbing an old dollhouse I scored for free. It sounds weird, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with it when I’m done, but having a creative outlet that I’m pursuing for no other reason other than the joy of creating has helped me feel more like, well, me.
“This is a new chapter for a parent who has been fully dedicated to caring for their child at home,” said Baroud. “Give yourself time to adjust emotionally to the new routine. If there is something you’ve been looking forward to like a house project, a walking group, or reading that dusty book, this could be a time to dive in.”
Refocusing on Career Goals
The constant demands of being a full-time mom haven’t always allowed for a lot of time to focus on my career. And while I’m proud that I’ve managed to somehow keep my writing career afloat through two pregnancies, newborn phases, and those hard baby and toddler years, I haven’t always put in the time and effort I’d like to into my writing.
And I’m not alone. Research from the U.S. Census Bureau found that the number of women who work full-time falls 18% once they have their first child. For me, this changes now. This fall, I’ll not only have my oldest in kindergarten five days a week, my youngest will be starting preschool, and those uninterrupted, kid-free hours are solely dedicated to my writing career.
Finding a New Normal
While I’m not looking forward to waking up at 5:30 a.m. every morning and leaving behind those lazy summer mornings, getting back into a routine is going to be good for everyone.
I’ve started getting up early and going to bed at a decent hour. Together, we practiced driving to his school, eating lunch independently from his lunchbox, and we even set up a summer playdate with his kindergarten peers so he could see a few friendly faces on the first day.
“It’s great to run through the new day’s schedule ahead of time. This gives the family a chance to practice a new morning routine [and] commute,” Baroud said. “Kids can use this time to ask lots of questions and see what the school will be like. Using books and stories, or TV shows to help their child see other kids [and] characters go through the transition is helpful, too.”
The funniest thing is that while I have been a bundle of nerves leading up to this change, my incoming kindergartner couldn’t be more excited. So while I may shed a few tears as I pull away from the car line on that first day, I have a feeling my son won’t be doing the same. And I know it’s all part of motherhood, letting go.
Baroud agreed. “It’s really all for the best. For both of you.”