Why Back to School Does Not Mean Back to Work

This school year I hit the mommy lottery! My 5-year-old started kindergarten and my 3-year-old started preschool three FULL days per week. YAY!!! Bring out the mimosas and bon bons. Oh wait…

When I originally signed them up, I thought I would have so much time to play catch-up. I thought I could get their room and playroom cleaned out; garage and laundry room organized; actually plan meals and grocery shop ahead of time; exercise everyday; organize the millions of digital and print photos; learn to use the sewing machine I’ve had sitting in my closet for two years; and just get my head above water from the past five years of drowning as the primary caregiver and household CEO, while also attempting to work outside of the house. Well we just started the second month, and while I did get some of my long-ignored projects taken care of, I feel there is even more awaiting me as the school year continues to fly by and overwhelm me.

I’m finally learning that all of that catching up, and taking care of the kids on the weekends when my spouse sometimes has to work, means that while some families have two parents home on the weekends to tag-team cleaning, errands, and household management for two days, I only have three abbreviated days to do it all myself. Even though my kids are in school for six hours a day, I still have to factor in the hour of driving in the morning and the additional hour of driving in the afternoon (which will double in the winter). No wonder I can’t keep up.

Still drowning. Three days a week still has not enough time to get my head above water. I did get some things done on my fantasy to-do list, but there still more being added every day. How can I not stay caught up? Am I really that bad at being efficient and organized? As most of my friends call me Martha Stewart, I highly doubt that is the case, at least I hope not.

Sick days. This week alone, I have spent three days home with sick kids. Last week it was one day with a sick kid and although I was sick, I attended a school function (unknowingly with a high fever). Thankfully, I have the flexibility to stay home at the last minute, so that my spouse does not have to miss work and then work even later to make up the missed hours. Had I gone back to work, I would have missed every day this week. Every time a sick kid stays home, I have one less day to play catch up.

School involvement. From parent-teacher conferences, to the Literary Festival, to the Fall field trip–elementary school has a lot more involvement than I originally thought. Especially when you have more than one child in school and at different schools, it becomes harder to manage the back-and-forth and planning to make sure everything that is necessary is covered. Again, since my spouse is busy at work and cannot take off time to attend these events, I attend and participate for the both of us…for both kids. I do not participate in everything, but just enough to be involved and get to know the schools, communities, and to make our kids feel valued.

Homework. Even though my kindergartener only has homework for her foreign language and music class, it still takes up what limited evening time we have. This also happens when I am usually a solo-parent, trying to make dinner, bathe kids, get them to bed, and also try to finish up whatever laundry or cleaning I was attempting during the day.

After-school activities. The kids are only in swimming, as a safety tool and one additional physical activity for exercise and fun. Even these activities take additional time and planning that I would not be able to do if I were back at work full-time.

I cannot tell you how many times people have said, “What will you do with that much free time?” “Must be nice to not have to work.” “What work?” “Can’t you work part-time?” I tried. I tried it all. I had three different job offers I tried to make work. However, between my spouse working unpredictable and long hours, our family relies on my flexibility.

It’s not that I’m mismanaging my time, it’s being filled with caring for sick kids, being involved in their schools, homework, and activities. There are also medical/dental appointments, house maintenance appointments, car maintenance, vet appointments; in addition to still trying to catch up from years of falling behind. I had to cancel my dentist appointment three times and my annual doctor exam twice because I had no childcare.  Now I know where all that “free time” is going.

Just because kids are in school, doesn’t mean they need you less, oftentimes they need you more. Our division of labor has been split by father being the primary wage-earner and mother being the primary caregiver, even though we are a feminist household. We didn’t intend for it to be split that way, it just ended up that way because of nursing, bottle-protesting babies, and my career being more flexible than my spouse’s career. There is food in the fridge, kids are picked up from school, bills are paid, and even though my son is wearing his sister’s underwear today, at least someone has clean underwear to share.


Here are some resources that are helping me–hopefully they will help you too:

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

Life Out of Balance? Put Yourself Back on the List

Erin Condren Life Planner

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