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Ask Scary Mommy: Back-To-School Anxiety Is Consuming Me––What To Do?

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Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

This week we’re talking about what’s on just about every parent’s mind right now – back to school. Do you send your child back to in-person school even if you’re unsure about whether it’s safe? Do you opt for remote learning if that’s an option? Or do undertake the lofty task of homeschooling? Have your own questions? Email advice@scarymommy.com

Dear Scary Mommy,

My kids are going back to school next month, and I’m feeling really uncertain about whether to send them to in-person school or not. We’ve had limited information from our school district, but it sounds like they will be offering a remote learning option. My husband and I both work full-time, and trying to manage those obligations while helping my kids with school was an absolute nightmare in the spring. I’m terrified about doing it again. My kids miss their friends and teachers, and I’m worried about them falling behind. But I’m also scared about keeping them safe, especially since coronavirus cases on the rise in my state. I don’t know what to do, and I’m losing sleep. I feel like whatever we choose to do, we’re making the wrong choice. What should I do?

Oh, friend, I get it. I really do. Back in March, the idea of remote learning for a couple weeks seemed impossible and now, here were are, faced with the very real possibility of remote learning for several more months. As if working parents weren’t already stretched too thin, throw in anxiety about the health of our family and fears of losing our jobs, and it’s the perfect storm of stress.

There is no good choice here, and it sucks that parents (and teachers) are even faced with this dilemma at all. It really does. And because there is so much emotion involved in the decision – and any decision involving our kids, for that matter – it can be helpful to look at the question objectively and look to trusted sources of information for fact-based guidance. Since our federal leadership has completely shat the bed on its handling of the pandemic, we need to look more locally.

Do you trust the leadership in your state to provide health guidance that is founded in facts? Or are your state officials looking at profits over people? How about your school district and the superintendent? Do you trust that they will make well-informed decisions that protect kids, teachers and the community?

If so, you may want to look to them for guidance and maybe even reassurance about how they plan to keep kids and school staff safe during the reopening.

If not – and sadly, many parents live in places where there state or local leadership is placing profits over people – then things get much riskier and it might be best to consider keeping your kids home if you can.

For some families, remote learning or homeschooling just isn’t possible. Some parents are essential workers who need to work outside the home. Some kids need in-person schooling due to special needs. And some kids rely on school to be their safe refuge.

Because of those kids who need in-person school, I would urge you to seriously consider remote learning. Simply put: Less kids in school who don’t need to be there makes it safer for the kids (and teachers) who do need to be there. Not to mention, it’s safer for your own kids too.

I understand this means a loss of time and focus on your job. It will mean that your kids won’t get the social interactions that they were used to. Sacrifices will be made all around. But I think we’ve been talking about this debate all wrong. Instead of focusing on what we’re losing by keeping kids home in the fall, let’s focus on the good we’ll be doing. We need to readjust our expectations from where we all were pre-COVID to the realities of today. So our kids might be a little behind in math facts and reading levels. These benchmarks are social constructs anyway. And our kids will catch up, and in the meantime we’ll be doing a helluva lot of good. We’ll be saving lives, slowing the spread of the virus, and teaching our kids to think about others. Sure, we’ll be exhausted and won’t be able to focus on work like we used to, but it’s a better than not focusing on work because our kid (or someone else in the family) is sick due to contracting coronavirus.

Look, there are no “good” options here. None. They all suck. But the risks of keeping kids home from school (if you can!) pale in comparison to the risks of COVID-19.

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