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Tips for Single Parents on Managing The Back to School Transition

Single Parenting Advice For Back To School

All parents love the beginning of summer; no more homework monitoring! No keeping track of band instruments! A break from packing lunches (unless, of course, your kid’s summer activities require that). The switch in routine comes just in time, right after that hectic-as-heck May in which you faithfully attend all those choir and orchestra concerts, and join your teens in stressing over finals. And then summer rolls in and we soak up the change in routine. All that brilliant sunlight and fresh air wears everyone out. And the kids’ summer sports and jobs burn up their energy tanks. But before we know it the calendar flips to August, and we feel back to school coming on like a brand-new mosquito bite.

Usually it hits during the part of summer when we parents need it most. My boys would be at the point of being super squirrely from not enough brain stimulation without school. This always thrust sibling rivalry into overdrive. The start of a new school year is super exciting, expensive, and filled with anxiety. Now that my kids are college-aged, I thought about what it was I did as a single mom that helped us transition easier to a new season.

Back To School: Challenges Faced by Single Parents

First off, the morning routine is just plain difficult. A summer of lazy sleeping in is hard to recover from. I tried a lot of things to encourage an earlier bedtime, and found that melatonin, white noise, and no screens an hour before bed helped everyone get to sleep much quicker.

All through my boys’ school years I made a big deal out of the first day of school, which always included orange juice in champagne flutes (the first year I did this, my youngest, beside himself with shock yelled, “You’re giving us WINE?!”) They got the fanciest plates we owned, and I also cooked something extra special and out-of-the-norm for a weekday, such as French toast or breakfast burritos.

At both boys’ place settings, they had a letter waiting for them that I had written the night before. The letter talked about the upcoming school year, and how much they had to look forward to. Of course, I took pictures, including one with them holding their sign declaring what grade they were in. It’s hilarious to see how my sons went from being totally cooperative and holding their signs up high, to the teen years where their expressions clearly noted they were way too cool for mom’s silly routines.

My kids usually ate school lunches, but I always packed one for the first day. It had treats we didn’t normally have in the pantry, such as fruit leather, homemade muffins and Hershey’s Kisses.

That evening we celebrated big time—maybe even with an ice cream cake or takeout pizza. As teens, the boys were certainly not as verbose as they had been in their younger years. But generally they would be willing to share about their courses, teachers, and which friends they had in their classes. On a good night, I’d successfully talk them into a dance party, or a neighborhood walk, sans phones.

As for the expensive part of back to school—clothes and school supplies—this is definitely tricky. I was fortunate in having two boys who were fine with solid color Mead spiral notebooks and folders versus the fancier supplies. I spent some serious time scouting out the best sales for the must-have items, and ignored the rest. We bought those super expensive graphing calculators used off of Amazon (and sold ours there as well). After some years of experience under my belt, I was able to discern what supplies on the “required” list weren’t needed at all. It helps to talk to parents whose kids are a grade or two higher. You can learn what you can avoid purchasing.

When it came to buying new clothes, I always got the boys new socks and underwear when they went on sale at Target. We took full advantage of discount shoe stores who ran buy-one-get-one-free sales. We also patronized the thrift shops that catered to teens; this alone saved me hundreds of dollars in clothes. And I always seemed to have friends with older boys who were happy to bring over a bag of hand-me-downs. All in all, I didn’t go crazy buying a lot of clothes; I got them enough shirts and jeans to get by until their birthdays and Christmas. Then grandparents filled in the gaps with clothing items on the boys’ wish lists.

I think if parents show excitement for a new school year, then the kids will pick up on that and share the enthusiasm. I’ve always tried to talk in positive terms; when my boys would express concern over something new and scary, I would tell them “I know you’ll be able to figure it out and do your best.” It is a very hectic time of the year, but investing the extra time and effort to show your kids that school is fun and important will go a long way towards fostering their love of learning.

Renee Brown

Renee Brown lives in Minneapolis with her two tall sons—Sam, 20, and Zachary, 18—and three obstinate felines. She is a senior account executive working in advertising and an avid reader, wine drinker, creative writer, and yoga enthusiast.