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Managing school demands...

If you're reading this in hopes I will be offering sage advice on the topic, I'm afraid you've been tragically mislead by the title...

No, unfortunately, I am not one of those parents of many children who manages everything very well - if you want someone like that, then keep reading and I'll point you in the right direction in a minute (if I give it away now, you'll stop reading my blog post and shoot on over to the other person's and then I won't get the advice or comisserations I'm seeking)!

Some mornings I simply can't get out of the school gate fast enough. After seeing Bryn off to his class I race to the gate and down the street to our house at the end of the road because tears are imminent and I don't want to sink to the footpath in a blubbering mess lest I embarrass my children more than they already have to endure.

You see, I'm completely overwhelmed by the demands that eminate from those buildings at the far end of our street. There are:

  • forms
  • fees
  • uniform orders
  • free dress days with gold coin donations (usually theme, requiring planning and - uh - organisation)
  • cake stalls
  • morning teas
  • fundraisers (including trivia nights, mothers and father day breakfasts, individual class fundraisers for other charities and for their class or the school as a whole)
  • tissue boxes and disinfectant packs to donate to classrooms (three boxes to each room - and no we haven't yet)
  • craft supplies (recycled containers from home)
  • working bees
  • in school parades and performances
  • homework
  • PE videos to watch and report back on
  • forms
  • teacher's day presents
  • farewell parties for leaving children
  • birthday favours for our own children to share with classmates
  • partnership meetings
  • special needs meetings
  • class rep meetings
  • school fair meetings
  • class helper schedules
  • school camps
  • did I mention forms???
  • AND MORE...
And all of these are times three - I'm not including regular stuff like making lunches and making sure they wear clean, untorn uniforms because I totally expected to have to be on top of that stuff...

We have three children at school now - but that is not at all uncommon (in this area). Neither Dave or I are working at the moment. Our children don't do extra-curricula activities, so why can't we manage to keep on top of this like every other family seems to?

We don't lose forms as such - we have a draw they go into... all of them... all the time... But most of the time we just don't manage to get those forms back in time, or we can't afford all the excursions, activities, supplies for everything the kids are doing.

This week alone we've spent $30 on "Cooking homework" for Erik (which was optional, by the way, but EVERYONE else did it, so he felt pressure to do it as well - evidently all my talking to him about not letting others pressure him isn't getting through) and "Junior Masterchef" for Luey - which was also supposed to be optional but well, when every other child in the class is doing it, and your child is the only one who WON'T be getting to eat with the others EVERY day for FIVE WEEKS, it's really hard to be the one opting out, and then there was the "Apple Chip" fundraiser one of the teachers was running for the Children's Hospital... Luckily, this week Bryn didn't have anything more than "You have to email the PE teacher so he can email back the PE videos for you to watch and report back on", which actually applied to all the children anyway...

Last week it was partnership meeting forms. We organised Bryn's, decided not to do Erik's (which has not been met favourably by the teacher), and were told Luey's would be next term because his teacher is away recovering from surgery. Then yesterday Luey tells us it will be this week anyway - who knows who will be supervising Luey presenting work from his portfolio (and don't even get me started on the fact that this so-called "partnership meeting" requires us NOT to participate except to watch Luey's presentation with approving smiles on our faces). So, this morning we rushed the form off asking for a meeting for tomorrow... I'll be surprised if we get one (which doesn't bother me, it's just the jumping through hoops that bothers me).

Do other parents stress about all these demands? We never hear about it. Do other parents just get on with it?

What about parents with jobs - how do they manage?
What about families where the children have multiple extra-curricula activities each week - how do they manage?
Single parents, even those who share custody equally (one week here, one week there kind of arrangement) - how on EARTH do they manage???

Where am I going wrong. Why am I so strung out about this? The expectations of the school seem so high, and I seem so inadquate. Questioning these processes seems unacceptable - to the school, anyway. I'm supposed to WANT to do all this stuff. I'm supposed to be happy to surrender every spare moment I have to "supporting the school community". This is not a two way deal though. There seems to be little understanding that we have four children to manage, not just one, and we live on two Government pensions, not a combined income of 70K plus.

The expectation remains that we should be able to cope. So, why do I rush from the school some morning on the brink of stress induced tears?

Most of 4 month's worth of forms and notices to participate.

How do you manage?

PS - I promised you that other organised mother of many... Check out this blog Planning with Kids - maybe I should take my own advice...


Jayne said…
I have no fkn idea how people manage. Tell me when you find out. For me, it involves much swearing, a lot of stress, pulling out of hair (mine) and weekly trips to the lovely patient office lady asking if I can have a replacement form for this or that. She must hate me. She covers this with a smile though ;)
Kate said…
A good tip for the endless paperwork I read recently... Don't ever touch a piece of paper twice. IE don't file it or put it in a drawer, deal with it then and there then bin or return it. Even if it's an excursion notice or similar and you don't have the $ on you at the time (happens to me often) fill in the written stuff so it is ready.

I'm trying to do this and it does cut my stress levels a fair bit. I got caught out missing a deadline earlier in the year and my kids were most upset. Won't let that happen again.

Aside from that, routine routine routine. School days run (mostly) like clockwork here. We have very clear expectations and they are met because I don't give an inch. I HAVE to run like that when I'm flying solo (most of the school week) or I'll lose the plot entirely.

All lunches are prepped on Sunday. Uniforms are laid out the night before. Lunch bags are emptied and repacked the moment the kids get home in the afternoon. I've just put written lists of jobs for the bigs on the fridge and they know it doesn't matter how they prioritize them, but they must be done by dinner time at 5.30.

Boring, maybe. But it works.
Sif said…
The home routine is not the issue - lunches, uniforms, morning and afternoon/evening routine works like clockwork.

It's the extras thrown in by the school that aren't part of the family routine that cause the stress. The "homework projects, the pay for this and attend that, and make something for this event, or provide something for that class project" that causes all the anxiety - mostly because there is very little notice, a week if we're lucky, most of the time...

I guess I need to be planning for those surprises, though too - always have the makings of a cake or a savoury plate in the pantry, always have three costumes up my sleeve, always anticipate having to help a child build a diarama over the weekend...

Or maybe we should implement the plan to have daily afterschool meetings with the kids to make sure we and they know exactly what is coming up in the next week (actually I suspect I might have to start doing that today because this can't go on)...
Kate said…
The short notice stuff really sucks.

I have a magnetic calender thingy on my fridge which is a lifesaver... EVERYTHING goes on there. Homework dates, social/school/extracurricular events, S's shifts. My bigs know to check their columns pretty much every day... easy enough to find a printable to use?

It means too that they are responsible for a lot of that stuff rather than me which is good for both of ud.

The food stuff at your school blows my mind. We're not allowed to supply home made anything ever because of food restrictions and food handling laws etc... I truly do not understand how you seem to be constantly needing to have that stuff ready to go! Bizarro world!
PlanningQueen said…
At our school it seems that is generally the same people who do most of the stuff. I find it hard to not do all those "extra" things, but I do think some parents just make the choice not to do them.

I also will guide and support my kids with their projects, but I have chosen recently to not actually get hands on. My second son is working on a science talent search game with a friend and they are a bit all over the place with it. I keep guiding them back to their plan, but am really leaving it up to them.

Thanks for the shout out!
I think lots of people do feel the strain, things get returned late and rushed and scraped together etc. I also think that managing three at school does require a lot of juggling, even if it is not an unusual number to have at school, doesn't mean it isn't a significant effort.

It makes me sad to imagine you leaving the school feeling distressed. I will say that I imagine this is one of those stresses that is felt more keenly when there's other difficult stuff going on, making this feel less manageable than it would be otherwise.

From experience I know the stuff that comes home that makes me groan always ends up being the one that is late .. like the $50 chocolate box fundraiser. They are probably the ones I need to get to first because my resistance on top of any logistical difficulties makes the situation worse.

Since all of those variable are kind of out of your control, maybe getting all LOA on this issue will help? "this activity makes my child's school experience rich and varied", imagine the kids smiling faces as they participate, "we facilitate their participation effortlessly". Shy away from the feelings of a lack of a two way street, that the school is making a judgement on a family's level of being invested by those demands - so when you cannot participate it's more the emotional experience of knocking back an interesting invite from a good friend, than failing at some externally inflicted yardstick of something dear to your heart.
Kate said…
Geez you're a smart lady Leah.
Frances said…
I have no idea how people manage. Do other schools seriously do this much? We must be a particularly relaxed school!

We have notices come home maybe four or five times a year for various things. It's great! :-)
Sif said…
Kate, that calendar sounds ace - where did you get it?

Leah, LOL, ya made me cry (just coz you got how I was feeling)! But yeah, you're right, I need to stop wanting to resist and start seeing how much my kids get from me being happy to make them happy.

Frances - which school do your kids go to??? (just kidding, LOL) I think our school is very caught up in putting on a show. Everything is so showy all the time - and I have to admit (and she blushes) that their annual MASSIVE fair - which probably costs the bomb to produce - kind of sold me on the school. They "show" well, but there is a cost, financial and pressure on families time wise.

Nicole, no problem at all - your book is on my "tax money" budget! And I PLAN to find time to read it, too!

We DID have a family conference after school today, and because we did we're ready for "Footy Day" at school tomorrow AND I know Erik has to take a video to possibly share with his class - which was decided at school today, so no notice at all. This short conference is going to become a daily thing in our house!

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