If Your Anxiety About Back To School Is Through The Roof, You're Not Alone

by Kristen Mae
Originally Published: 
Boy Talking With Stressed Mother Using Laptop On Table At Home
Scary Mommy and Victor Coscaron/EyeEm/Getty

This morning, I woke up before my alarm. Not in a, “Golly, I have slept quite enough and feel so rested!” kind of way. No, it was more like, “FUuuuUUUuuuCK” with a crying emoji tagged on the end of it and also that popular GIF with the baby running into the room and then quickly turning and running back where he came from.

It was all thanks to anxiety about back-to-school.

For the bulk of the summer, I wasn’t sure whether I would send my kids to in-person school or whether we would try some version of distance-learning. I read and reread and reread some more the statistics on the likelihood of kids getting sick, how sick they could get if they do get sick, any long-term implications if they were to get even mildly sick, and how likely they may be to transmit COVID-19 to other family members.

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Part of the problem with seeking answers to these questions is that we don’t actually have answers. We took kids out of school very early on in the pandemic, so we simply don’t have the data necessary to assess the level of risk with any kind of confidence. An article on Vox written by a father and epidemiologist cited a series of reasons why in his professional opinion, children are low risk: children represent a disproportionately small percentage of overall infections, almost no outbreaks have been linked to schools, we haven’t seen many families getting sick from their kids, and kids who become infected just don’t get that sick.

But the same article noted the problem with an absence of sufficient data, though it did mention an instance in Israel where they stopped schooling and sent everyone home because of two confirmed cases of COVID-19. It was later discovered that actually 100 kids from that school had been infected (also: the Vox article said 100, but NPR reported the number was actually 130, 116 of them students). Meanwhile, here in the United States, several outbreaks are confirmed to have originated at various summer camps and caused shut-downs.

So, on the one hand, limited data tells us kids seem not to get sick with or transmit COVID-19. But, on the other hand, if one kid is confirmed to have COVID-19, as many as 60 more actually have it, and also outbreaks definitely happen where kids gather even with social distancing and mask-wearing measures in place.

Not to worry though! In-person school is all probably going to be just fine.

Where I live in Florida, cases have been skyrocketing and ICU beds are filled nearly to capacity. Our governor appears to have his head really quite firmly inserted into Trump’s rectum and makes decisions seemingly based purely on the economy. Our county is “strongly encouraging” masks and for parents to report if someone in their family has COVID-19, though neither is required. I’m sure this has something to do with HIPAA laws, but it does nothing to decrease my anxiety about the safety of in-person schooling.

And so I’ve decided my kids will be schooling from home. The fact that I work from home, combined with the high infection rate where I live, for me, represents a moral obligation to keep my kids home. Slowing the spread of COVID is a numbers game. The fewer exhaling bodies in a space, the lower the rate of transmission. So I will help with this by keeping my kids out.

Still, as many of you well know, having decided what type of schooling your kids will do for the coming semester does not equate to feeling calm about it. Because, seriously, how the fuck am I going to do this? I work full-time as a freelancer. I cannot hover over my children all day long to make sure they’re doing every lesson exactly as intended. I will most definitely have to be more involved than I’ve ever been, and I will do my best, but honestly I’m nervous I’ll screw it all up. I’ve always been a laid-back, hands-off kind of mom, and I like it that way. My kids are very independent because of it. But there’s no getting around the fact that doing school from home is going to require more from me, and I am terrified I’ll fail. Distance learning was a shit-show. And as much as I want to tell myself we’re all in this together, we’re all going to see a bit of a slide in our kids’ learning, it feels impossible not to worry.

And on top of trying to be a decent teacher, how can I make all of this feel less traumatizing to my kids? How do I keep this situation from feeling like a dystopian nightmare, when that’s kind of exactly what it is? How do I not give my kids weird germ complexes? How will I keep up their physical health when they won’t have PE and I don’t have the time or willpower to play that role? And what if, despite our many, many precautions, we get infected anyway?


I worry about other people’s kids too. What about the single-parent households, the households with two essential workers, the households with abuse, intolerance, neglect? I feel guilty for my privilege. There are parents who desperately would rather keep their kids home but simply have no other option. They’re wondering what they will do if, after school has been in session for a short while, they are asked to quarantine again, forcing their kids back into distance learning. Who will watch their kids? Will they have to decide between supervising their children and keeping their job? What if their kids pick up COVID-19 from school, maybe from the child of an anti-masker who doesn’t yet know they’re infected? What if they get it themselves?

Part of the anxiety comes from knowing that there are no good answers. Truly, there are none. Every time people gather together, there is risk of sickness and death. And even for people who survive COVID-19, we are starting to see a disturbing trend of stubborn, ongoing health difficulties.

And yet there are many people for whom sending their kids to school is the only option. There are many kids who are more at risk at home than they would be at school, yes, even accounting for the risks from COVID-19. There is no perfect way to do this. There is no solution that will keep everyone healthy and alive.

The best each of us can do is to consider others as we make decisions for our own families. I think that is what’s lacking so much in the dialogue about back-to-school. Too often, the suggestion is that each family must decide what is best for them, and them alone. I think this is absolutely the wrong way to think about everything relating to COVID-19. I think, as we wade through the anxieties of the coming school year, and indeed the coming waves of quarantine, infection, and economic struggle, we need to be worrying about others at least as much as we worry about ourselves.

I think, if we could work toward that, we might all begin to feel a little less anxiety.

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