What probably kept you going during the long nights and crazy-busy days of early motherhood was the belief that life would be less stressful once your child started school.
Unfortunately, that commonly held belief seldom holds true. While less hands-on mothering is required once children start school, most moms find that what they gain back in one category on the stress ledger is more than cancelled out by a sudden flurry of new entries. The school years are the years, after all, when bullying is most likely to become a problem, when academic and behavioral problems start to show up on the radar screen, and when extra-curricular activities can take on a life of their own.
And then there's the "h-word" -- homework -- the unpredictable end-of-day wild-card that you feel you have little choice but to work into your day. "Homework can be a big concern," says Andrea O'Reilly, founding president and director of the Association for Research on Mothering at York University.) "It can be a big time and energy drain on families every night."
The fact that the school day and the work day don't match up particularly well leads to added stress for mothers who work outside the home. In addition to looking for before- and after-school care, you'll need to have a plan in place to cover professional development days, school holidays, sick days, and other days when your child is off school. According to Nora Spinks, president of Work Life Harmony Enterprises, a Toronto-based work-life consulting firm, putting together a childcare plan may not be as easy as it was when your child was younger, says Spinks. "By the time your child starts school, your social supports tend to disappear. Everyone assumes you're self-sufficient by now."
Sometimes just surviving this fast-paced stage of motherhood is an achievement in and of itself. Here are some tips on riding the stress waves through this particular life stage.
Realize that certain times of the year will be more challenging than others -- and try to budget your time and energies accordingly, particularly if you work outside of the home.
"Often, the fall is a particularly difficult time for working mothers because just as the school year is beginning the pace of the workplace also picks up,&" says Aimee Israel, CEO of Lifespeak, Inc., and herself the mother of two young children. "This period can be stressful for children and parents alike."
Make routines work for your family.
"Having routines saves both time and energy," says Wendy Hall, RN, an associate professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia. "In families where there are some routines and some idea of how things are going to unfold, there tends to be less stress."
Work at creating connections with your kids.
That sense of connection can be the ultimate stress buster for them and for you. "My husband and I have both found that our kids magically â€˜spill' if we spend a few minutes with them at bedtime. They tell us what they're excited about, worried about, wondering about, and so on," says Aleta Abraham, a Winnipeg mother of three.
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Parenting Books. You can contact her via her website at having-a-baby.com.