For the first time in two months, my house was silent this morning – devoid of laughter, tears, toys, and hourly snack times. It felt strange and empty after the first school drop-off of the year.
The morning was a mad rush to get dressed, walk the dog, prepare the lunches, and brush teeth – all before 8.15am. Then, while my husband took our two-year-old to his first day of nursery, I walked my older boys to their school. The ten-minute walk consisted of me repeatedly asking if they were nervous, scared, or sad – I was clearly simply projecting my feelings onto them, because they happily skipped in through the school gates without looking back.
Other parents were talking amongst themselves about how glad they were for their kids to get back, elated that they were finally getting a break. I, on the other hand, held back my tears until I reached a quiet alleyway, where I let the tears fall without restraint.
Parents have – yet again – another change to cope with as school begins all over the UK this week. Each parent has unique feelings to accompany the start of the school year and we shouldn’t be surprised by whatever emotions overcome us during this week – they’re all allowed.
There may be relief, stemming from the first taste of alone-time in seven weeks. We can do the food shop alone, finish a cup of hot coffee, clean the house, work in silence, or catch up with a friend for lunch. All summer, we’ve been stretched in every direction – and finally can focus in on something besides parenting.
But some of us may feel guilt creeping in from wishing away the summer and missing quality moments we could have had with our kids. Some of us worked when we could have played; scrolled Instagram when we could have gone to the park. Or, perhaps the guilt is a result of feeling so happy to get them out of the house – ashamed we are so elated someone else is taking care of them for six hours.
For some parents, anxiety may be eating us alive as we read reports about the growing number of Covid cases. Will sending them to school increase their chances of catching the virus? Will they bring it home to us? To our families? Will we have to take weeks off work, isolating?
Loneliness isn’t uncommon, either. It can be a shock to the system to go from having company, 24/7, to total quiet. Especially for those who don’t work full-time, who may miss the constant conversation with kids and feel a certain loss of identity after being needed at all times.
If you have felt these emotions, or any others, as your kids go back to school, you aren’t alone. The last two years have been the most unique our generation will likely experience. Change, after change, after change. The uncertainty of what lies ahead and what we have already endured lends itself to a rainbow of emotions. None of them should be ignored or shunned – they are natural responses we can’t control.
However, while we may be feeling relief, guilt, loneliness, and anxiety, let’s also recall that we’ve been here before. Change isn’t a new phenomenon. When we look back over a lifetime, or just the last two years, we find instances of strength in the midst of change. We became Maths and English teachers. We were chefs. We worked remotely. We entertained. We lost loved ones. We missed family and friends. We have conquered change before, and we will do it again.
Parents, we should let our emotions bubble to the surface this week. Let’s give ourselves a break, cut ourselves some slack, and welcome the emotions we feel as another school year begins.
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