How to beat the back-to-school stress

Since many of us are sending our kids back to school, I wanted to share some ideas on how we might do that as a #momsetfree. I hope you enjoy it and find some relief from the stress as you read it!

Every summer my husband and I take our four boys to Palmetto Bluff, SC. The gas lamp-lit streets, secret forest trails, and 32 miles of Lowcountry coastline provide an unmatched place to unwind. Last year, we waited until the very end of summer to visit this southern oasis, as we were hoping for a week of R&R just before the back-to-school craziness.  But relaxing didn’t come easily—my mind was already gearing up for all the back-to-school tasks awaiting at home.

On our last day of vacation, we meandered into RT’s Market. It’s a neighborhood general store where niceties for adults are sold alongside necessities for children. Necessities being Yoo-hoo chocolate drinks, of course. There I stumbled upon an irresistible item in the home décor section. It was a small, gold, ceramic trophy, emblazoned with funky black font spelling out, “You Tried.”  I bought it immediately.

“This,” I said to my husband, “is coming home with me and it’s going to sit on the kitchen counter.” And sure enough, as we enter into the craziness of the new school year, my silly trophy reminds me daily not too take this whole thing too seriously.

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We all need that reminder, right? Because this is the time of year when we moms feel pressure to be all the things and do all the things to ensure our kids have all the things as they head back to school. There is so. Much. Pressure. Pressure to flawlessly launch our children into a new school year – a launch that we want to be positive and hopeful but often ends up feeling overwhelming and stressful.

We take the supermom cape out of the closet and tie it around our shoulders and attempt to live up to the impossible standards and unrealistic expectations. Laid-back Summer Mom transforms into high-strung Super Mom.  So how can we set our kids up for success without completely losing our summer vibe?

I’m not one to give a lot of advice because I’m mostly winging it myself.  But since I have the trophy, I’d like to share just three simple things that can help us have a much more enjoyable–and less stressful–back-to-school launch.

Here we go.

1. Choose your best yes 

There is no better time to choose our yeses well, as I’m sure you’ve heard it said that every yes is a no, and every no is a yes. The goal is to live generous lives without losing our minds!

Over-volunteering, over-scheduling, over-achieving – it leaves us running on empty tanks, without the fuel we require for the best yeses.  In my book Mom Set Free: Find Relief from The Pressure to Get it All Right, I ask a question I’d like to pose to you here:  “Do you ever wonder what leads us to be so tough on and overly critical of our kids?  Maybe it’s because we are over-burdened and worn-out from expecting far too much from ourselves and, therefore, far too much from our kids. We pour out and pour out, but we rarely fill up. Self-care is shelved, and we run on empty tanks. We forget we aren’t God. We forget grace.”

For example, my son has a Nike T-shirt with a slogan on the front that reads “best don’t rest.” I can appreciate this mentality for a young man in the middle of a basketball game, but sadly I think we moms adopt this mindset for our daily lives. We think we can’t afford to carve out time for rest and recharge when really, we can’t afford not to.  

(May I interject with a personal note to the mama who feels like she is drowning in a sea of small children? I remember how that feels. Just keeping small humans alive all day feels like a huge win. And it is! So if money is tight and babysitters are scarce please don’t let your inability to rest and recharge cause you to feel guilt. My sincere hope is that you can find a friend to swap with or a church bible study with free childcare so that you can get just a little breathing room. You’re worth it!! Heck, sleep through the Bible Study just to get the free childcare if you must! God will still love you.)

Friend, you can’t do it all perfectly. Nobody can. We need to get ok with this. And really, we both know perfection is overrated! I’ll be the first to admit I learned this the hard way.  I spent too many years aiming for perfection when all my children really wanted was my presence. But here’s the thing. Admitting we can’t do it all doesn’t make us quitters who are weak and pathetic. It makes us women who are strong and brave. Yes, strong and brave enough to say we need grace and we need God’s help.  And that’s where the real power kicks in.

So can we agree to not let unrealistic demands dictate our choices?  Prioritize what matters most to you and your family.  Write those priorities down and check your choices against them.  We only have so many yeses, and refueling needs to be one of them. This pretty much leads us to the next thing I’m learning.

2. Be the CMO of your home 

My friend Courtney DeFeo calls herself the CMO – Chief Mood Officer- of her home.  The CMO, of course, sets the tone of the home.  You don’t have to be a parent for long to learn that our children really are like sponges.  They absorb our attitudes and they adopt our actions.  This can be a really good thing or this can be a really not good thing.Most children are experiencing their own back-to-school stress so they need us to create environments that foster, not fight with, a sense of calm and confidence.

And yet so many of us ramp UP the drama when it comes to our homes around this time of year. We know from experience, and research confirms, that stressed out, anxious, and guilt-ridden moms tend to create stressed out, anxious, guilt-ridden home environments. What’s inside us overflows into those around us. I haven’t met a single mama who wants stress, anxiety, and guilt for her kids, but that’s usually what happens when we let unrealistic expectations and impossible standards be our boss.

What our kids need most isn’t a CEO but a CMO who sets the tone for what handling the stress well looks like. Now I can assure you there are plenty of behaviors and attitudes my boys have absorbed from me that need undoing or reworking, but I hope that by this point I’ve been honest enough about my struggles and shortcomings to tell you a story about a small win.

Last week I was preparing for an important interview about my book and I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed. The house had been loud and alive all morning with my three eldest boys and several of their friends running amuck and eating everything in sight, while my toddler, who is potty training, decided to make a deposit on the floor rather than in the toilet. There’s more but you get the point. Meanwhile, I knew I had to get my head clear and read through the interview questions before I sat down to Skype.

In the midst of the chaos, my thirteen-year-old son found me in the kitchen with my head down, hands cupping my face to catch my tears. “Hey, mom,” he said gently as he put his arm around my shoulder. “Can I pray for you? What do you need before your interview? I want to pray for it.”   That might have been one of the most precious and profound moments in my parenting because in that moment I realized maybe – just maybe –  we are doing a few things right.  But it also reminded me, in a poignant way, that our kids are absorbing how we do life.  See, we pray with our boys every day. We want them to know the power of prayer.  And when they are struggling we ask them the question, as my son asked me, “How can I pray for you?”

Oswald Chambers wrote, “Prayer is the practice of drawing on the grace of God. Don’t say, ‘I will endure this until I can get away and pray.’ Pray now—draw on the grace of God in your moment of need. Prayer is the most normal and useful thing.”

Prayer gives us complete access to God’s peace and God’s power, both of which we desperately need as CMO’s of our homes.

3. Finally, don’t compare your real life to Instagram life.

We live in the northeast which means our kids don’t finish school until late June and they don’t return to school until late August.  So when early August rolls around, I have about three weeks to scroll thru Instagram and see my incredibly creative friends posting photos of their beautiful children.  Most photos have things like ultra-chic chalkboards displaying all the essential details like their child’s name, age and school year. So here is the irony.  I absolutely love seeing photos of my friend’s children.  I deeply love their children. I pray for their children. And I’m actually proud of my creative friends for coming up with something as cool as a chalkboard or letter board for their back-to-school photos. And yet, this is just one silly example of how something so wonderful can tempt me to feel so pathetic.  Because I know we won’t have a chalkboard. I’m just not that mom. We will more likely have a rushed photo of four boys who are wearing mismatched athletic wear and don’t want their pictures taken.  So why am I tempted to feel pathetic when I love this crazy life and my wild boys and these messy moments?  It’s because perfect, filtered photos often can make our imperfect, unfiltered real lives feel “less than.”

For every photo we see on Instagram there is an entirely unseen story.  Sometimes there is more joy behind that photo than the photographer could ever capture.  But most times there is heartbreak, and hardship, and just really hard stuff.  So there’s no point in comparing our back-to-school real life with another family’s back-to-school Instagram life.

So how about this. Let’s determine to launch our kids back to school as a  “Mom Set Free” from the pressure to get it all right.  Let’s make this the year that you do your best you, and I’ll do my best me. Deal?  Rather than tie on the capes and compete for the supermom crown, can we agree to chill out and cheer each other on? I’m raising the “you tried” trophy to you!

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This post originally appeared on and was republished with permission. 

Jeannie Cunnion is the author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child and Mom Set Free, and a frequent speaker at women’s conferences and parenting events around the country. Her passion is encouraging women to live in the freedom for which Christ has set us free – a message her own heart needs to be reminded of daily. Jeannie and her husband Mike have four boys who range from teenager to toddler.



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