It’s back-to-school season in many parts of the world. An exciting period for most kids, getting used to new a new classroom and teacher. But after six weeks (or more) of taking things slow, most families do need to get back into a routine again.
Of course no one likes to hear the alarm clock go off, but parents with chronic illness may really struggle to get back into a rhythm that’s not in tune with their body’s capabilities. Having school-aged kids brings all kinds of responsibilities, from helping with homework to enabling extracurricular activities and play dates. No matter how much you love your kids, these commitments are not always easy to handle when you’re sick and in pain every day.
What helps you cope depends a lot on your health situation, your family and where you live. School systems and the way we raise our kids vary a lot around the world. But here are some general energy-saving back-to-school tips for chronically ill parents.
1. Prep the night before
Early morning rush hour isn’t fun for any family. But when you’re chronically ill, feeling somewhat human in the morning probably takes you even longer than most parents. Arthritic joints or build up pressure in your brain from intercranial hypertension make it hard to function at all shortly after waking, let alone hurry to be on time.
In that case, it helps to keep activity to a minimum before 8AM.
- Lay out clothes the night before. It helps to check the weather forecast if you live in a place with fluctuating temperatures. If you’re super organized, you can even get a hanging closet organizer and assign a shelve to every weekday.
- Make next’s day lunch box will cooking dinner. You could also make sandwiches in advance and freeze them. If your kids are old enough to pack their own bags, you can set up an efficient lunch and snack station to make mornings less hectic.
- Pack bags in the evening. Get in a routine of checking the calendar if your kids need to bring sports clothes, assignments or seasonal items.
2. Get organized
When last-minute rushing isn’t an option health wise, organization is key. Especially planning to get things done with time to spare saves you a lot of stress. That way, when you’re having a bad day, you don’t have to worry about washing gym clothes or getting classroom birthday treats. Here are some ideas to stay organized:
- Note all important dates in calendar. In the beginning of the school year, you probably receive an overview of when school trips, sports day and important tests are planned. A family calendar works well to keep track of everyone’s activities. You can also set reminders in your phone if you need to do some advance organization, like getting a gift for teacher’s day.
- Have a place for everything. There’s nothing more energy-sucking than searching for lost keys when you’re finally ready to get out of the door. Teach your children to put everything (back) where it belongs: from dirty clothes in the hamper to permission slips and homework in a designed spot on their desk.
3. Getting to and from school
When you have limited mobility and there’s no school bus available, dropping your kids off and picking them up from school takes up a lot of your energy. If walking, cycling or driving every day is strenuous for you, perhaps you can set up a carpool system with other moms and dads who live closely. Or maybe you can ask a responsible older student to walk you child home safely one day a week? Alternatively, you could consider after school care until your spouse is able to pick the kids up.
Get creative to work out a good solution for your family. A safe commute is so important, but you probably prefer to spend your precious energy on other activities with your kids.
4. After school activities
The older kids get, the more they love to spend their free time hanging with their friends or doing something they enjoy. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think a lot of chronically ill parents struggle with after school activities. You want your children to play sports, express themselves creatively and learn tons of useful skills, but your illness stops you enabling it all. I don’t have all the answers, but these thoughts may help:
- Don’t overschedule. Of course there are all kinds of developmental benefits to getting involved with after school activities, but busy schedules can take a toll on both the kids and the parents’ health. More and more experts value time for unstructured play and real downtime. It’s perfectly ok to choose just 1-2 meaningful extracurriculars per child.
- Talk to your child about how to make playdates work. Maybe spontaneous get-togethers are too much for you to handle health wise. In that case, having a specific day in the week for potential playdates could help manage expectations with your kids. That way, you don’t have to say ‘no’ every time they ask. Or maybe playing at your house means more noise and mess than you can handle. Perhaps you can work out a good arrangement with the parents of your kids’ best friends that work for all of you.
- Don’t feel guilty if you can’t be as involved as you’d like to. Even most healthy parents can’t do it all, and that’s ok. Maybe you can’t attend every school performance, but you read together each night. There are many of ways you can be involved in your child’s (school) life, even if you can’t physically be there.
- Remember, it isn’t a competition. Sometimes other moms and dads can make you feel like you need to prep Insta-worthy Bento boxes or make fancy science projects to be a good parent. Don’t fall into the comparison trap – you’re doing just fine.
5. Have a back-up plan
Life rarely goes as planned. But when symptoms can flare up at any time, having a back-up plan for bad days makes life run more smoothly. Take a look at these tips:
- Keep a few essentials in your car, like healthy-ish snacks and drinks, a set of clean clothes, face wipes and a first aid kit.
- Being too sick to pick up your kid from school can create a lot of additional stress. Team up with others parents to help each other out in times of trouble, or ask family members living close by if they can help out.
- Get an extra set of gym clothes or other school gear you need on a regular basis. If you’re too ill to do laundry or buy new supplies, you’ll have a back-up at hand.
As your children grow and move from grade to grade, their needs and your role will change. This list of tips is definitely not complete, so I’d love to know: what’s your best energy-saving back-to-school tip for other chronically ill parents?
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