The Bittersweet Back to School Season


Hey there, fellow mama. The new school year is already here for some or just around the corner! Are you ready? If you’re like me, and many others I’ve spoken with, this more than any other year is a bittersweet back to school season. Starting a new academic year in 2021 is unlike any other year we as parents have encountered. The world is still grappling with a pandemic. Families across the DC metro area have made major life changes. Many children have been physically out of school for at least a year. My two daughters haven’t set foot inside of a school since March 2020, and my toddler son doesn’t remember a world where his sisters aren’t always home. For the past 18 months, the literal 24/7 care of our school aged children has taken a toll on parents. And yet, as we look towards the start of a new academic year, I can’t help but feel this bittersweet back to school tension as my emotions bounce between joy and sorrow and anxiety. We’ve been anticipating this next step in our return to normalcy…and yet, I don’t feel totally ready. Do you feel the same?

Together 24/7

My daughters’ school did not bring them back in person at all for the 2020-2021 school year. I, quite literally, was with my daughters and baby son every moment of each day as we navigated virtual school. It will be 535 days total (yup, I’ve counted) that my children have been out of (physical) school by the time they start again on August 30th. To say I’m ready for a break is an understatement! But you know how all day you can be dying for some space, and when the kids are finally asleep you can’t help but scroll through photos and videos of them? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
I know this time of them being at home with me was a gift in many ways. These past 18 months at home have been a time for our family to be in our own bubble. While we most certainly got under each other’s skin (on the daily!), it also has been such a tender and unique time to share. While I am 100% ready for school to resume on so many levels, I also know I’ll look back on this time with some level of longing.

Nervous About What Lies Ahead

While I’m ready – both for their sake and for mine – for my daughters to head back into a classroom, there’s anxiety I just can’t shake. The COVID-19 pandemic is still a threat, especially to unvaccinated individuals like the 12 and under crowd. This alone brings a whole host of fears! There are the usual back to school worries to mitigate. And compounding all that is the fact that my girls are switching to a new school here in DC. With so many changes and unknowns, it’s no wonder I’m nervous on many levels about this upcoming academic year. However, within this world of unknowns there is also so much hope. Vaccine roll-outs for children are a not-so-distant possibility right now. We are better informed and better equipped to handle this health crisis than we were even just months ago. There is also, I like to believe, more empathy in most people these days.
bittersweet back to school
Back to school during COVID

Balancing This Bittersweet Back To School Season

You are not alone for feeling many conflicting emotions right now. Try having a conversation with your children about this, as they too are almost certainly trying to make sense of these complicated feelings! Validate their feelings, and acknowledge that it is perfectly normal to feel more than one way about heading back to school. I love the principle of replacing “but” with “and” when having a hard conversation. Don’t dismiss any of your child’s (or your!) feelings, but live in the tension of them all. You can be scared AND joyfully anticipate new experiences for your children as we navigate this new normal. Take a deep breath, hug those babies tight, and know you aren’t alone in however your heart is processing this season. May we all learn to accept and embrace all of our complicated emotions in this bittersweet back to school season of 2021.