My husband and I both work full-time. We’ve divided up elementary school drop-off and pick-up duties, so everyone can get where they need to be at the right time. I handle drop-off so he can start work. He handles pick-up so I can finish my workday later in the afternoon. It’s a fair way to split up the task, and on the surface, it looks like we’ve equally divided one of the core school responsibilities. But the mental load of the school year is so much more than driving obligations.
My husband manages his share of the household labor in many ways, but when it comes to handling the school year, nearly all the tasks fall to me. I’ve gotten through the mental load of the back-to-school rush, and now I’m fully entrenched in the mental load of the school year with our second grader. We don’t have to deal with homework yet, but the relatively invisible task of managing the school year is still a lot to handle. Here are some of the school-related tasks running through parents’ minds and some tips for sharing the load.
The Ongoing School To-Dos
So, what does this invisible task include outside of pick-up and drop-off? A lot. For parents managing kids in school this year, I’ll bet a lot of this sounds familiar:
Managing the weekly schedule
What days are gym shoes needed for P.E.? When do library books need to be returned? Which weeks am I in charge of providing the class snack? Is her Chromebook charged for the week? Is her water bottle filled?
What days is my child eating school lunch? When do I need to pack her lunch? Do we have lunch items available that she’ll eat? Is her school meal account set up? How much money does the account have?
Managing after-school care
Did I sign up in time to ensure a spot in after-school care? Do I have payment set up? What will we do for sick or closure days?
Scheduling care for days off and school breaks
Do I have all of the no-school days from the calendar noted? Can I take any of those days off, or do I need to schedule backup care?
Reading the class emails
Am I up to date on all of the information provided, and have I taken action on what I need to do? Do I have all of the school activities on my calendar? Did we schedule teacher conferences?
Are all of the permission slips and forms signed? Are fees paid? Is her folder of take-home items regularly cleaned out? Does the school have her immunization records, physical forms, and emergency contacts?
Keeping an inventory of school clothes and supplies
Do any of the school supplies from the beginning of the year need to be replenished? Is her wardrobe up-to-date for her current size and season?
Keeping track of parties and celebrations
Purchasing teacher gifts
I can’t fathom the mental load of being a teacher, and I want to make sure they feel appreciated. Do I have a gift ready in time for the holidays or for teacher appreciation week?
How to Lighten Your Mental Load During the School Year
Anyone who handles these tasks can agree this is a lot for one person to handle. So, what can we do to more fairly manage the mental load that comes with school-aged kids? Here are some things I’m working on in my household:
Consulting Fair Play to rebalance the work
For partnered parents, I can’t recommend Eve Rodsky’s best-selling book Fair Play enough. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a way to divide domestic labor into 100 concrete tasks that are turned into cards. The Fair Play cards are distributed between you and your partner, and whoever holds the card for a specific task owns the job from start to finish.
You can use this concept to distribute the school burden more equally by looking at the items above and turning them into cards. One of the reasons this method works so well is that the cardholder is expected to completely handle that whole task, not just parts of it—so it can actually be removed from the other’s mental load.
Distributing tasks to my child as they get older
I get into bad habits of doing too much myself because then I can do it my way and on my schedule. But it often means I take on too much when others in the household are fully capable of helping. Now that my daughter is almost 8 years old, I realize there’s a lot she can handle herself. It takes the burden off me and teaches her responsibility.
Take a look at what tasks you’re handling each day and if your child can take it over. Some examples could be packing a lunch, sorting out their backpack, or laying out their clothes for the next day of school.
Auditing our schedule to see what we can streamline or remove
If my schedule goes unchecked for a while, it ends up filling up with some unnecessary items. When I sit back and review what I’m doing, I can usually find things I don’t really need to do or things I can do in an easier way. Look at your list and see what can be changed. Can you remove packing lunch from the list and have your kid eat the school meals? Perhaps, the after-school payment can be automated. Can you switch the teacher gift from something crafted to a gift card?
I promise the time it takes to pause and make some small changes can help conserve your mental energy long term. We all need that extra energy. The school year’s only just begun!