Mum of five, Gillian Harvey, looks at the positives of waving goodbye to her children as the new school year begins.
Many parents greet the school summer holidays with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Let’s face it – whilst we love our children, the six-week break can sometimes be memorable for all the wrong reasons. Delightful sunny days can be peppered with cries of ‘I’m bored!’ or ‘Mum! He’s teasing me again!’ And beachside holidays with vanilla cornets and sandcastles often come with a side-order of restless nights, gritty sandwiches and cries of ‘Are we there yet?!’
As someone who works from home, my own summers are spent trying to type despite constant interruption and offers of ‘help’ (translation: putting jam on the keyboard, or pulling out the plug on my printer) from my five little ones.
As September approaches and I prepare for the new term, I can’t help but feel a modicum of relief. But, as with many parental emotions, it’s mixed with a hefty helping of angst.
Before parenthood beckoned, I always thought it was the kids who were supposed to suffer from separation anxiety – but when it comes to my brood, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Apart from the odd wobble, my children seem happy to waltz into class and it’s me who’s gnawing her nails ‘til school’s out. But rather than spend the month curled up in a ball or take my stress out on colleagues, I’ve found a few ways to put my mind at rest.
Become a super-spy
If you too are a paranoid parent and want to see for yourself how your child is getting on, I’d recommend going undercover. Most schools ask parents to volunteer from time-to-time, and as well as earning brownie points, you can see firsthand how your child fares during school hours.
That said, choose your activities wisely. Having scribbled my signature on a form last term, I found myself being asked to lead a group on a visit to a donkey sanctuary. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals – just from a distance. Leading a donkey with a rope wasn’t my idea of a great afternoon – especially as mine had a tendency to halt without notice, causing inattentive children trotting behind to collide with its rear-end.
Trust in the experts
Wishing you could spend more time with your little ones? However good a parent you are, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some things that other people are simply better at. For example, if I had my way, poster paints would be illegal, along with sequins and pretty much all messy craft activities.
Teachers, luckily, are a lot more tolerant, and some of the creations my kids have carried proudly home have shown promise that only a chaotic craft table can provide. When I feel a little guilty that I’m not seeing them as much as I’d like, I remind myself they’re probably having much more fun than they would at home.
Discover the art of conversation
We all worry about whether our children are happy. Have they got good friends at school? Are they worried about schoolwork? With most of my lot responding that they ‘can’t remember’ when I ask them what they’ve done that day, it can be hard to get a clear picture. Recent post-school conversations have included such scintillating gems as: ‘Who did you play with?’ ‘No-one.’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What’s your favourite school dinner?’ ‘A round thing.’
But persevere. Spend a little time each evening – perhaps when you’re tucking them in – chatting to them about their day. Over time, they’ll begin to share more (although I am still none the wiser about ‘the round thing’). Not only does this mean they’ll develop better communication skills, it also makes it more likely that they’ll ’fess up if something is going wrong.
Embrace your emptier schedule
Whether you’re a full-time care-giver, work from home or head to the office each day, September will probably be a lot easier to organise than August was. Days are neatly divvied up, and you and your family can settle into more of a routine. With your diary looking more coherent, it’s time to look at how you’re spending the time you have. I hear what you’re saying: Is it okay to take on more hours at work? Can I really do that course? And – is it really possible to drink a cup of coffee before it goes cold?
The answer is a resounding YES to all of the above (although if you take your coffee black it might be worth blowing the surface before having a slurp). It’s taken a couple of new school years to get the hang of it, but now I take the transition (just about) in my stride. And although bidding goodbye to summer can leave the strongest of us feeling a little blue, I now see ‘Separation September’ as an opportunity to grow, rather than groan.