Welcome, friends! Grab an iced tea or dirty martini with extra olives (you know who you are) and relax for a minute. I know you’re flipping out because your first baby is only two in mom years and heading to kindergarten. But it’s all going to be okay! I’m here with a handy cheat sheet that will help you rock this whole school-mom thing.
My firstborn baby defied all the laws of space, time, and science stuff and finished elementary school in like five minutes. Now he’s going to middle school, and it’s time for my second little bit to start kindergarten. The whole thing is banana sandwiches.
Despite the warp speed, I still managed to learn a LOT on my first round, and I’m more than happy to share. I’m even rocking extra street cred because my own mama was the best teacher and administrator ever. I’m not exaggerating there. The woman has plaques.
Basically, I’ve got insight from both sides. Trust me, peeps. This list of random observations is THE guide on how to rock the elementary school mom thing. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Follow the Pick-Up and Drop-Off Rules
I am SERIOUS here, people. Don’t screw up this one. I remember the very first email I got from the school, which included a flow chart for the car line. I was mystified. I mean, do we seriously need a chart?
YES, YOU NEED A CHART.
Don’t be alarmed, but your entire value as a human being can be summed up by how you act in the car line. The routine is a well oiled machine until Jerk Parent shows up on the scene and cuts off 50 cars. Or makes a left out of the lot when there are no left turns out of the lot, for the love of all that is holy. Or worse yet — stops her car FRONT AND CENTER to drop off Pretty-Pretty-Princess, instead of moving all the way forward. I can’t, y’all. That’s the devil’s work, right there.
Don’t be Jerk Parent. If you ignore the drop-off and pick-up rules at your school, a kitten dies, and your child won’t graduate from high school. I’m pretty sure that’s the deal. No pressure.
Listen to Your Teacher
Not like you listen when your son is talking about his Minecraft worlds. I’m talking about the “stop and truly hear” kind of listening. This can be super hard. It’s not easy to turn down the volume on your own mama bear wants, needs, and worries for your child — but that’s what it takes.
Kindergarten teachers are angels. They take a room full of kids on every learning level possible and turn them into a cohesive group of functioning non-wild-animals that can read, write, stand in line, and be quiet at appropriate times. And they still come back, year after year. I KNOW, RIGHT?
This is a specialized skill set, and now is a good time to trust to experts. If the teacher asks for “sneakers only” at the beginning of school, don’t send emails asking why Sally can’t wear the cute glitter sandals you bought. Just trust the teacher knows something you don’t. I promise there is method to the madness. There are so many things that you may question, but I have a good way to test whether or not it’s worth complaint. Just multiply your concerned email by 20 parents and then ask yourself if the concern is worth the teacher taking precious instruction or lesson prep time to work with you.
You’ll be able to spot the moments when the battle isn’t worth picking. These awesome teachers understand you have tons of questions, and they are happy to help you. They want you to be involved! They also deeply appreciate it when parents put their faith and trust in them and let go of the reins. You want that sort of reputation as a parent; it will pay in dividends when you truly need help someday. Trust me.
Don’t Complain on Social Media. Ever.
If you are old like me, you might occasionally forget just how transparent the old interwebs truly are. The start of kindergarten brings loads of new friend requests and group invitations. You’ll find yourself in school, grade-level, and even various classroom groups. No matter what the privacy settings say, teachers hear and see what’s happening on social media.
During the first semester of kindergarten, I was shocked to overhear two teachers discussing an angry parent post in one of the groups I was in. I was at once excited that I hadn’t gotten involved in the convo and heartbroken for the teacher. The post hadn’t even registered to me as that big of a deal, but the teacher clearly had a heavy sadness in her voice as she spoke about it. It served as a good reminder that words are powerful, and the Internet is forever. When you DO get angry — and everyone does at some point — vent privately to your friends and family. Memory is long, and you never know who is listening.
Join the PTA
I really, REALLY misunderstood the PTA before my son started elementary school. I thought joining meant working bake sales with those lunatics in the movie Bad Moms. There are actually two mistakes with that logic.
First, joining the PTA doesn’t sign you up for ANYTHING. Seriously. Joining the PTA in Texas is code for donating $10 to your school for your kids to do cool stuff. That’s it. All those adorable events that you can’t wait for — fall carnivals, back-to-school bashes, and Christmas concerts — are not funded by the school! I had literally no idea everything fun comes from the PTA’s budget.
They also replenish recess and PE supplies. They often provide free grade-level shirts, classroom books, additional technology, and many other resources the kids use on a daily basis. So those 10 bucks are super important and a worthwhile expense. When you get the envelope to sign up, there’s a box to check if you want to become a volunteer. But the vast majority of people don’t check that box. They “joined” the PTA, but that only amounts to a small and much needed donation to your school.
Second, if you DO sign up to volunteer, you aren’t signing up to be on the board. Your email address goes into a database and you will receive the mass emails when there are volunteer needs. If you never respond, it honestly goes unnoticed. But if something pops up that works for you, say dropping off treats for a teacher appreciation luncheon, you can chip in. You don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom, and you don’t sign away your life. It’s strange how pervasive the misinformation is on this subject . . . so take my advice, and join!
Respect School Rules About Birthdays
The rules are simple at our school: If you are going to hand out invitations at school, you must invite the entirety of one sex (all boys or all girls) or you invite the entire class. This is pretty self-explanatory, folks. If you don’t see the merit in this, you are beyond my help.
Don’t suggest that your child be sneaky and drop invites into backpacks or some other kind of shenanigans. Because OBVIOUSLY. I wish I didn’t see the need to add that, but humanity and all. Also, remember to RSVP. I’ve gotten busy and dropped the ball on that one and regretted it something fierce. Even if you don’t recognize the name, or your child very specifically cannot stand the birthday boy, RSVP anyway. It’s the right thing to do.
And most important . . .
During the first five years of motherhood, many of us have been blessed to live in a little cocoon. Your child’s environment has been largely cultivated by you. Public school might be the first time your kiddo experiences a cross section of society and has to navigate getting along with people who live a completely different life than he does. This little window of time can change absolutely everything.
Your junior humans are soaking up more than the accidental curse word muttered when you stub your toe. They are learning your judgements, fears, and dislikes too. The way you respond to things you haven’t experienced is the way they will respond. That child will also go full Fight Club Brad Pitt and not remember anything that happens at school or even if he goes to a school. So that’s festive good fun.
Fight for it, mama. Ask detailed questions. Ask about each name on the class roster. Ask who he sits with at lunch, who he doesn’t like, who said something silly, who isn’t easy to play with. When he tells you, keep digging. Ask what he thinks about the child who seems mean or sad or strange. Think together about reasons why. Might he be suffering on the inside? Could he use a friend or a smile? The unknown is often scary — for all of us. But it doesn’t have to be.
There is a point in early elementary school when kids start putting each other into those stupid categories: Funny, cool, popular, weird, nerdy. It happens far sooner than you’d imagine. If we get in there early and teach kids how to respond to differences, I know we can help everyone accept each other with more kindness. If my son didn’t struggle with mental health disorders like OCD and anxiety, this wouldn’t have crossed my mind. I don’t preach it because I think I’m better at this mom gig. I preach it because I didn’t understand before, and y’all probably don’t either.
Grace is good. You never know when your own baby might need some of her own.
BTDT moms, can you add more tips in the comments? What else might help out our newbie friends? Don’t forget to go easy on their mommy hearts.
And please save the kittens.