Just Say No: Staying Sane at the Start of the School Year

Jennifer Dennard  @JennDennard
January 20, 2016  | Last Updated: January 19, 2016
Baby Making Mischief on Mother's Desk --- Image by © Steve Hix/Somos Images/Corbis

It’s that time of year again. When parents heave a huge sigh of relief that school is back in session. We’re happy that our kids are back into the educational routine and out from under our feet. (Isn’t it funny how the beginning of summer is filled with endless possibilities and boredom seems like a distant memory left over from last year’s doldrums?) There’s a flipside, however, to the onset of another year of schooling. A dark side, if you will, to packing our adorable little ankle biters off for another nine months of learning. It’s a “four-letter” word I, personally, am all too familiar with. S-T-R-E-S-S.

It’s the packing of lunches. The helping with homework (perhaps in multiple grade levels, extending into territories of curriculum you forgot long ago). The preparation of clothes. The school volunteering. The extracurricular activities that send you zooming from one corner of the county to the next, multiple times of day, sometimes with multiple kids in tow. Layer on top the professional obligations of working parents and you’ve got a perfect storm of stress just waiting to hit.

As a full-time working mother of two, I learned some time ago that stress can build up even in the best of times – preparing for a vacation, moving into a new home – making it even more necessary to be aware of potential stressors and the impact they will ultimately have on your health.

It’s no secret that men and women experience and process stress differently. The American Psychological Association says that women are more likely to report physical and emotional symptoms of stress than men, while points out that women are twice as likely to experience major depression than men and three times more likely to suffer from anxiety. I’d like to say I’m surprised by these findings, but given that I have two school-aged children, a fulfilling career, and the bad habit of saying “yes” … I can’t say that I am.

As nurturers and caregivers, moms tend to put everyone (and sometimes even everything) else first, usually without a thought to how overextending themselves will affect their physical and mental health in the long run. Do you find yourself falling into the trap of over-obligating yourself? Saying yes to too many activities, even fun ones, that will end up running you ragged by the time the day is done? For example, multiple birthday parties with classmates on the same day sounds fun for your kids in theory, but experience has taught me that an overabundance of excitement, not to mention sugar, has the ability to leave kids and parents cranky at the end of the day.  

Saying “no” has become my go-to way to avoid stress at the start of the school year and beyond. I’ve learned to pick and choose my commitments carefully, including family, school, and career. I don’t say no to everything, of course, but instead am more selective in saying yes. I commit to the projects, committees, and teams that I’ll find the most fulfilling and that will still leave me time to pack lunches, do homework, put away the laundry, and maybe get seven hours of restful sleep each night. My husband and I hold our children to the same standard, allowing them to participate in just one extracurricular activity at a time.

But that’s just me. I took to Facebook to ask my maternal peers how they avoid stress at the beginning of the academic year. Here are the highlights:

  • Still make time for fun – don’t quit summer cold turkey!
  • Empty out backpacks and lunch bags when the kids first get home from school.
  • Create an in/out bin for school forms that need to be signed and returned.
  • Give everyone downtime immediately after school so everyone has a chance to decompress.
  • Keep a dry erase board with the week’s schedule and activities in a central area.
  • Plan meals for the coming week. Make the crockpot your best friend!
  • Prepare for the next day – clothes prepped, lunches packed and backpacks ready to save time and prevent morning meltdowns. (They can happen to parents, too!)
  • Keep reasonable bedtimes for everyone.
  • A nice hot bath can remedy a lot.

And my favorite …

  • Pick your battles, go with the flow, and tell your kids every day that you love them. Hugs and kisses fix almost anything.

What are your top tips? Strong coffee to start your day before getting everyone up? Chamomile tea after everyone else is in bed? Please email your comments to


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