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Cope with September Mom Syndrome (SMS)

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Dr. Wendy Walsh: I don't know about you, but I dread the month of September. Saying goodbye to the lazy days of summer where kids can sleep in and stay up late is hard to do. Last night I watched "Sleeping Beauty" at 11 PM with a 6-year-old! It's morning now, and my little sleeping beauties are snoring away while I get some writing done. September will be a different story.

mom packing school lunch with daughter
September means back-to-work for mommies. Lunch packing, carpools, music lessons, club sports, homework (where the math sometimes escapes us), and firm media control. And, don't forget your responsibility to volunteer at your child's school(s) -- from room parent duties to bake sales to getting ready for that darned silent auction. Yuck. The real world of mommy life is fast approaching. I remember one year when I was simultaneously a room parent, president of the parents' association, and, oh, I also helped develop the P.E. program. I was so crazed that I learned to walk across the schoolyard with my head down, because I was approached by so many wonderful, though tiring, parents who had questions or needed direction.

We do it all because we love our kids and because that's what being a good parent is all about. If we're lucky, we have an evolved guy to pitch in, but from what I hear from my married friends, the burden of raising kids still mostly falls on the troops of mommies across America who are doing their best to create good employees and entrepreneurs rather than more expensive prisoners. So, with September just around the corner, here are a few tips to get you through SMS:

1. Plan ahead. Start the bedtime schedule at least one week before school starts. Yep, that's today. Sleep experts say that jet-lagged travelers must take at least one day to recover from each hour of time change. So, if your kids normally hit the sack at 8 PM during the school year, and during the summer it is more like midnight, they'll need nearly a week to adjust.

2. Work out a fool-proof carpool with lots of back-up plans.
If, like me, you'll have two kids going to two different schools, you'll need the village to get them there. Make plans right away to pinch hit for others who may have to cancel.

3. Have your children lay out clothes for the entire first week (or every week). No morning arguments allowed. If you're unlucky and don't have a uniform policy, the morning routine can be delayed by a bedroom fashion show. Nip that one in the bud by buying extra-large ziplock bags. On Sunday, have your kids stuff five of them with outfits, including socks and underwear. Mark each bag with the day of the week, using a black Sharpie. Make a firm rule that kids cannot change their mind once they've chosen on Sunday.

4. Make a bath and hair schedule. Some kids, especially the athletes, bathe every day. My delicate girls, with their "mixed chicks" coarse hair, only wash hair once or twice a week, but bathe three times a week. We have a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday policy so there are no arguments about baths, and I can schedule my commitment to the lengthy hair-combing event.

5. Make homework, reading, and media rules before school starts, and write them on a white board in the kitchen for everyone to see. I usually get quite severe in September -- no media at all during the week --- and then loosen up by Thanksgiving if I see good behavior. I like to keep something to give as rewards, and a little TV usually does the trick.

6. When you do finally wander on campus, volunteer carefully. It is important that we all do something for our schools. Studies show that kids whose parents are involved in the school do better academically, even if they don't interact directly with their child. It's like the child has a sense that they are being watched by their mom's network of other volunteering parents. However, the exuberance over the new school year causes some parents to overextend themselves in September and then drop the ball later. It's better to choose wisely. And choose something you really like to do, so it feels more like a pleasure than a chore.

7. Finally, take care of yourself. Go to bed early. Take time to shower and go to the gym. During that crazy September when I once over-volunteered, I even went more than a week without washing my own hair! If you can help it, don't fall victim to the baseball hat and ponytail. It's a dead giveaway. Remember the flight attendant rule: put your own oxygen mask on first.

And, most of all, don't compare yourself to other mommies. There will always be a more organized Mom with cleaner kids and more elaborate science projects. When you're feeling overwhelmed, reach out to the mommy village for help. People feel good when they help others.

And finally, know that all mothers make mistakes, and it is through our imperfections that our children grow. I once rushed my kids to school late, and in my haste, tuned out my daughters' "But Mommy...." Did I feel like a fool when I returned home to a ringing phone call from the school office. I had sent my second grader to school with no shoes!!!


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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Amber August 30, 2009, 12:46 PM

It seems odd that school still starts in September in some places! My kids have been back in school for 3 weeks already.

Anonymous August 31, 2009, 12:46 AM

She’s the same Wendy Walsh who used to be on the tv show “How do they do that?She was also featured on “A “Baby Story” in ‘98.

Jerelian October 11, 2009, 1:55 AM

Very cute :-)))),

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