When your child started school a few weeks ago, were you surprised that it was you who struggled to say goodbye? Perhaps your child is starting day care soon and you are dreading the thought of being away from them? We think about how our children will adjust to the change of being away from us, but for many mothers, they can also struggle with this change. We speak to the experts and share tips to make the transition easier for mums.
When my eldest son started school, I climbed into the car and cried. In the weeks leading up to my youngest starting school, I was constantly told by family and friends that I should be so excited…to have time away from both of the kids…to have ‘me’ time during school hours. As a working-from-home mum this would mean I could get so much done in peace! But to be honest, I struggled with it. The longest I had ever been away from the kids before they started school was a few hours, and the thought of a silent house was not something I looked forward to.
I was not worried about my youngest at all. “When I start school, I’m not going to cry,” he boldly announces. “I will be having fun – I’m not going to miss you at all!” (insert sound of my heart breaking). No, it wasn’t my child who was going to cry…it was me.
“When our children are small, we tend to get emerged in the role of being a mother. After the children have been dropped off at school, it might be difficult to find a sense of purpose for the day that is not necessarily linked to being the best mum you can possibly be,” explains Janalie Nelson from Relationships Australia.
So what should mothers do to adjust to this change? Janalie says a great place to start is to take the time to reflect on what you would like to achieve for yourself – even formulate some short-term and long-term goals. She says she finds parents benefit from the Act-Belong-Commit message to maintain their mental health and wellbeing. There are some great tips at www.actbelongcommit.org.au
Whitney Yip, respectful parenting coach, counsellor and single mum, offers some great advice:
- Think back to pre-baby days. What was one hobby that you loved but let fade away. Maybe reading, or dancing or even video games. See if you can join a group that meets during school hours (or maybe even start one). Meetup.com would probably be a good place to start. The change can be hard, as society puts so much into the identity of Mother’, but when school starts, we have the ability to be ourselves again.
- If possible, spend one whole day making dinners for the whole week that can be frozen, so when your children come back home from school (and on the weekends), you don’t need to stress about getting dinner ready or the groceries. Instead, use that time to connect and spend quality time with your children. Plus less stress for the whole week!
- Wake up earlier, or pack lunches the night before, so that you can spend 5 to 20 minutes quality time reading a book or kicking a ball with your children before going to school without feeling rushed or stressed. Starting the day with connection time helps ease the feeling of ‘missing’ a child as you’ve already connected with them.
- Be kind to yourself, it’s a big change. It’s ok to feel that you miss your children dearly, or the complete opposite! Take yourself out for a walk, have a cup of tea and be mindful about the whole experience while acknowledging your feelings.
After school hours Janalie says re-connecting when the children get home from school is very important (but don’t expect too much because kids need down-time and time to relax).
“Play still remains the most important job for children and they love doing it with Mum and Dad as it is a way to truly connect,” she says. Janalie says finding the time to play with your child when they are going to school might feel like impossible, but she suggests some ways to integrate playfulness into your time together, such as:
- Bedtime rituals: incorporate gentle play and nurturing during the bedtime routine.
- Playing games while driving or walking them to school.
- Special “Hello” or “Goodbye” games or rituals that can also help with separation anxiety.
“For weekends, it’s good to plan simple things like picnics or trips to the beach,” she adds. “You don’t have to fill weekends with lots of exciting activities and outings.”
Our readers share their experiences:
My son is an extrovert and craves stimulation, whereas I am an introvert and crave downtime, so I am absolutely psyched for the both of us, for my son to be starting school! We both will get our needs met without one or the other feeling put out. I’m also looking forward to being able to get more than two hours to get stuff done child-free. (Whitney Yip, mum-of-one, Victoria)
Initially I really struggled when my youngest started school. He was my shadow, either playing beside me or helping with daily tasks like hanging the washing and weeding the garden. I felt quite lost on the first day of school. There were tears of course (mine not my son’s) as we said goodbye.
Jo Frendo, mum-of-three
I went home to a too quiet, empty house. I put music on to distract me and quickly set about my chores. My saving grace that day came from a friend who had been in the same position the year before. She kindly called and took me out for a coffee. I wish I had planned to go straight from school as I would have avoided going home to a silent house that day. I did take a few weeks to adjust but soon new routines were established.
‘At home was the hardest’
At home was the hardest. I recognised both the challenges and opportunities for myself and my family as Deora started school. While on one hand, I welcomed freedom (well not 100 per cent, as I still have my second child at home), I also recognised the opportunity for change.
“I do feel a lack of confidence as I am still holding on to the feelings of having my first child going to school. I started to cry whenever I walked past her room or when I picked up the bits and bobs that belong to her – I missed her. I am always excited to pick her up and anxious a lot of the time.
“I began to spend most of the time one-to-one with my second child, watching him grow and focus on his ability to be independent and prepare him to start kindy. I tried to prepare food for lunch or dinner and keep the house tidy, so that I could concentrate on other things when my first child got home from school. I reminded myself to keep an open and positive mind that she will be fine and will do tremendously well in class – she did! I do still miss her ‘baby days’ though. (Ellison Nonis, mum-of-two)
Why not try these ideas while you adjust to the new routine?
- Be a parent helper in your child’s classroom.
- Put yourself on the roster to cut fruit or help with reading time or activities.
- Enrol in a short course or hobby during school hours.
- Get together with other school mums and set a time once a week to go out for a coffee or a walk.