The return of schedules: How parents can make the most of back-to-school energy

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Olivia Dreizen Howell has spent the summer running her online business, Fresh Starts Registry, from her Long Island home while caring for her two sons. At ages 9 and 7, they are full of energy.

“So many times,” Howell says, “I’ll be on a radio interview that’s live and my kids are banging on the door asking for string cheese.”

Howell isn’t wishing her final weeks of summer away, but she’s eagerly anticipating the moment when classes begin and her kids are occupied all day on a predictable schedule.

Summer can be difficult for the growing community of parents who now work partly or fully from home. And experts say that just like kids, adults can benefit from the energy and new possibilities that the start of the school year brings.

Especially if they do some planning.

Desiree Martinez, a marketing consultant for small businesses and a mother of two young kids in Ann Arbor, Michigan, says parents should aim to harness the fall’s momentum, and not let any time that’s opened up get away from them.

The back-to-school season can fill up quickly, especially for working parents who shuttle kids to practices and events, says Martinez, who has been helping clients prepare for the first day of school.

“What happens to us mentally is that it’s Labor Day, then back to school, and Halloween, Thanksgiving, and suddenly it’s Christmas break,” she says. “You kind of don’t get a chance to breathe. And so if you don’t have the right plan in place, it can be to your detriment.”

So what might that plan look like? How can parents use the final weeks of summer wisely?

GET CLEAR ON PRIORITIES – INCLUDING YOUR OWN

Rachel Brenke, who runs her own law practice and coaches other entrepreneurs on keeping a healthy work-life balance, suggests sitting down now to make a list that includes all family members. What are each person’s commitments and top priorities for the fall?

Then draw up a schedule that “fits everything together like puzzle pieces.”

For mothers: “I’d encourage you to start with yourself first,” Brenke says, because it’s easy to fall prey to the cultural pressure to put yourself last.

“Guilt and a feeling of obligation and overwhelm starts to creep in,” she says, and your own projects, work and personal goals can get postponed year after year.

Aileen Weintraub sees this happen often with the writers she mentors through her business, Witches of Pitches. Many of them are working mothers.

Weintraub can relate: When her teenage son is home for the summer, she says, “I want to spend as much time with my son as possible. But I also really want to keep the momentum going on my career and all the things that we’ve built… So it’s been quite a balance.”

START MAKING THE SHIFT

Howell, of Long Island, has this advice for parents: Give yourself patience about the things you couldn’t get done with kids around the house. But get a head start scheduling the meetings or tasks that require quiet and concentration during the first days of the school year.

Lakesha Cole runs a public relations firm from her home in Florida and is the primary parent taking care of her three children, including one with special needs. To accomplish her own goals this fall, she has already begun shifting the family into their back-to-school routine.

“Systems make my world run smoothly, and so I set these systems up in our household for getting up in the morning and getting what you need done in the time frame that you need to do it,” she says. “It starts a month before they go back to school.”

Closets are being cleaned out and Cole has set up several “stations,” including a breakfast station, where each child chooses and prepares their own morning meal.

“My goal is, I don’t need you to ask me 50 questions in the morning. You know how to brush your teeth. You know how to get dressed. You know how to do all these things and I’m empowering you to be independent and to make these decisions without me,” she says.

Like Cole, branding consultant Ginny Olson is already getting her two sons, ages 10 and 8, on a solid sleep schedule with help from her homemade “no-fuss bedtime chart.”

It’s a simple system: “If they are in bed by 8 and they read until 8:30, I will give them each a quarter,” Olson says. “I’m kind of reinforcing that this is just how our family shows up – whether it’s summertime or school time – so that when school time does come, it’s going to be easy.”

SET BOUNDARIES, GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK

Martinez doesn’t have charts but she does try to set clear boundaries around her work hours.

She begins work early in the morning, before her kids wake up. But once they’re up, her kids know “this time is when I’m working and if my door is closed, you can’t come in, but I will make sure that after this time, I’m done. Then we’re going to do something together,” she says.

Cole agrees these kinds of boundaries help. And so does a break for parents after a summer of childcare and multitasking.

Every year she gives herself one full day of celebration before she dives in on her career and personal goals when school begins.

“The first day of school is the official Hooky Mom Day,” she says. “I play hooky from all things grown-up. I normally go to ResortPass and buy a pass at a fancy hotel and I go lie on their private beach. I am there from dropoff to pickup. And that is how I kick off the school year … whoever wants to come and join me, they can join me. I’ll be at the Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete!”

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