Back to School Blues

It’s the time of year where the media, commercials, and other well-meaning parents assume that I’m thrilled my kids are headed back to school after summer break. In past years, I was glad – happy to be back to a routine, chuckling at the commercials with dancing moms and sour-faced kids.

But this year, I’m dreading the start of the school year. Because I have a child who struggles with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and executive processing with some attention issues thrown in for good measure.

Third grade was an anxiety-fueled fusion of rushing to get to school, notes and conferences in which we discussed all the ways he wasn’t measuring up to his peers, homework frustration, tears from all involved, me struggling to understand when in the hell I was supposed to find time to re-teach him everything he didn’t catch during the school day, and balancing that with his time to just be a kid.

Along with strongly worded advice to maybe try some tutoring to help him (in what time slot?), have him see a therapist for his “issues” (again, when?) and put him on medication for supposed ADHD, he and I were both so strung out by June that I couldn’t wait for school to be over, and now I’m dreading the start of the new year. After a frustrating round of doctor visits, all of whom were treating only the symptoms they could prescribe something for, we saw a naturopathic doctor at the end of the school year who advised us that his adrenals were completely burned out and his stress level was uncommonly high, something that is routine in adults but should in no way be an issue for a 9-year-old.

I know I’m not the only one, and in fact I’m probably one of the more fortunate in that my kids attend a private school that provides accommodations, a smaller class size, and a more forgiving environment than many kids have. Forgiving though, only means that I am are more likely to find out when my child is made fun of for not doing as well on a test as his classmates, something that happened after a teacher had the children trade and grade each other’s papers.

I have to put on a happy face (or at least neutral) for the sake of my daughter, who loves school, and my son, even as I see his anxiety levels climbing as he prepares to re-enter a system that is not built for him. Lots of people have suggested I home school, but that is not the answer for us. He responds well to one-on-one coaching, unless it is from his parents.

If there is one thing I know, it’s that our focus needs to be on preventing the level of stress and burn-out we experienced last year. For me that means, recognizing when it’s time to step back and take a break, saying no to constant requests for volunteering, and avoiding the pressure to medicate, tutor and whatever else might magically “fix” things. He is not something to be fixed but a child to love and support, whatever might be going on. If that support means blowing off homework, or taking a sick day when we aren’t really sick, then so be it.

So with that, Monday starts the new school year, and I am determined not to get caught in the day-to-day and miss the big picture.