It May Be Summer, But I'm Consumed With 'Back To School' Worry

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Back-To-School COVID Anxiety Is Already In Full Force For Parents: Girl wearing mask in school openi...
Scary Mommy and Westend61/Getty

Every day, mom friends and I are discussing the back-to-school anxiety we all have. It’s early July, and we’ve been having this discussion since March when all of our schools went to distance-learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. Normally during this time of the year, we’d be having pool play-dates and sharing margaritas, but instead, we’re consumed with back-to-school COVID-19 questions. The fear of the unknown is all we can think about.

I don’t know what information to believe, whom to trust and listen to, and what to do next. Every day, my news-feed is flooded with conflicting statistics, recommendations, and predictions. Don’t tweet me. We’re not being irresponsible, throwing caution to the wind. My family is going on month four of sheltering-in-place at home. We only go out to get groceries or attend necessary medical appointments. When we leave, we wear a mask. What I don’t understand, and what many parents are struggling to get, is how we will go from point A (now) to point B (back-to-school) and feel semi-good about it, especially with so many factors at play.

We have four children, two tweens, an upcoming second-grader, and a preschooler. The kids are at two different schools. By the end of July, I’m typically buying and labeling all their school supplies, making sure their backpacks and lunchboxes are in working order, and enjoying the last few weeks of summer. I get them each a new shirt to wear for the first-day-of-school photo op. This year, my only concerns are, what is the school district going to decide, and will my children be able to learn safely while sustaining good social and emotional health?

Now, I am not knocking school boards and administrations. They have a tough job with no guidebook. They’re subject to the same confusing information that we are. No matter what they decide, there are going to be a lot of pissed off, complaining parents. Team No Masks is certain that mask-wearing is impeding upon their rights and wearing a mask does more medical harm than good. I dare you (not really) to try to convince them otherwise. Team Mask believes that everyone should wear a mask in public spaces, including students in classrooms, and is circulating graphics on germ spreading. Then there are the parents of kids with special needs who will have a very, very hard time keeping a mask on properly and without contaminating it. Whatever school officials decide, there’s going to be some serious clapback.

Some parents are threatening to homeschool. Yes, I said threatening. Yet, some of these same parents have mocked homeschooling in the past as brainwashing children and ensuring the children won’t know how to socialize. FYI: as a former homeschooler, it is not easy to “just” homeschool. Other parents are in the camp of take-these-kids-back-as-soon-as-possible-because-they-are-driving-me-nuts. Then there’s many of us in the middle of the road who are living in a state of anxious trepidation. No matter the parental response, I believe the vast majority of them are steeped in fear and craving control in an uncontrollable situation.

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The reality is, many parents don’t have options. They have to go to work. They don’t have free or available childcare, ready at a moment’s notice. And distance learning, God help us, has so many issues. I’ve seen parents ask how in the world they are going to manage a full-time job as well as essentially be their child’s teacher. Many felt ill-equipped to guide their kids through the crisis-learning journey, which I can empathize with. I’m completely helpless when it comes to common core math. The more kids you have, or if you have kids with special needs, the harder it gets to help them distance learn.

There are also a lot of parents who have kids with medical conditions that could be compromised by COVID-19. Even if all the precautions are in place, like wearing masks, social distancing, smaller class sizes, and handwashing, parents understandably wonder if these are enough. Kids who receive therapies at school, such as physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy, will likely not be able to distance from their therapist. Most speech therapies cannot be conducted with masks on.

And let’s talk about our teachers, the superheroes who educate our kids. They’re now supposed to play the role of nurse, mask-monitors, hand-washing police, social-distancing enforcers, and educators? For the millionth time, give the teachers a massive pay raise. They don’t get nights, weekends, holidays, and summers off. They’re working, like administration, around the clock, preparing for back-to-school, too.

All of these thoughts and issues are ramping up parental anxiety to new heights. Summer gives us a reprieve from the drama of e-learning. However, when we turned our calendars to July, many of us realized we don’t have that much time until decisions need to be made. Once the school districts render their guidelines, then we may or may not have our own choices to make. The heat is on, people.

My parent friends and I are all uneasy right now. There’s a major damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t back-to-school vibe that we just can’t shake. What if the district makes the wrong choice? What if we make the wrong decision for our kids? The news grates our ears (and nerves), interfering with our ability to think clearly.

This year has been an epic dumpster fire so far, and I’m worried that it’s not going to ease up anytime soon. Like all parents, I’m in this place of asking, Now what? What is best and next? I don’t have the answers. Neither does the next parent. What we all want is for our kids to be healthy, happy, and ready to learn. How we get there, nobody seems to know.

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