Parents Suffer the Back-to-School Blues

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As kids begrudgingly head back to school, it may seem like time for mom and dad to relax and enjoy the newfound quiet and free time, but today's parents say school means just as much work for them as it does to students.

Lisa Earle McLeod, a mother of two, said when her children start school, her schedule fills up with duties like PTA (search) meetings, fund-raisers and sporting events.

"Do you have a job chart, an e-mail list for the soccer team, and know when it's your turn to take home the class hamster?" she said in an e-mail. "Well if not, you better get going honey because school has started, and your work has just begun."

The school bell doesn’t just toll for thee, McLeod: An AOL/Parenting magazine poll of 14,000 parents found that 48 percent of moms and dads dread fund-raisers more than any other school activity, 28 percent are haunted by homework and 20 percent are annoyed by science projects.

For parents of past generations, back-to-school often meant a break from the summer when the kids were home all day, but McLeod said those times are long gone.

“My mom may have spent her days having coffee and eating bonbons at the neighbor's house while the kids were at school," she said. "She wasn't expected to volunteer in the classroom, put cutesy notes in everyone's lunch box and send in two dozen cupcakes with the class mascot etched out in frosting."

Silvana Clark, a professional parenting consultant, said moms and dads who are overwhelmed with kid's schedules should remember “extracurricular activities are supposed to be fun.”

Balancing sports, homework, music lessons and more is possible, she said. To alleviate car-pooling craziness, she advised parents to limit kids to one physical and one mental activity at a time, such as football and French lessons.

Harried parents need to realize they have more control over itineraries than they might think, Clark said. For example, her daughter is involved in dance and soccer, but to avoid running around, she told the dance instructor her daughter would join the class a few weeks late, once soccer was finished.

But the most important thing is to “let kids be kids,” she said.

“They need to have days when they can come home after school and figure out their own fun like riding bikes with friends or building a fort in the yard.”

As for committing time to school, Clark said parents should volunteer wisely.

“If you have a school carnival or dance coming up, instead of spending hours on the planning committee, offer to be on the clean-up crew,” she said. “You come out looking like a hero and there's really not that much work involved."

Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and father of 11-year-old twin boys, said homework has become “an assault” on parents.

“It is a dirty little secret that parents feel guilty saying they hate helping with homework,” he said, adding that his sons bring home about three hours of assignments per night. “For some people it’s deeply gratifying to help. Others don’t mind doing it [because] it’s a way to spend time with their kids. But for a majority, it’s annoying and a burden."

But Clark said parents who fret about helping with schoolwork need a reality check: “If you signed up to be a parent, you signed up to change the diapers and help with homework."

If parents aren't confident about their own knowledge of certain school subjects, Clark suggested hiring a high school student or professional tutor to help out.

Still, McLeod said pressure to perform is overwhelming for many parents.

“We've created such high standards and are determined to make everything so special, we're wearing ourselves out in the process," she said. "And heaven forbid parents try to buck the trend...The sheer embarrassment of being the only one whose science project truly looks like a 5th grader did it themselves will sentence him to social ridicule for the rest of the year.”

Coleman pointed out that parents often transfer their nose-to-the-grindstone ethic onto their children, but said he's found that piling up activities — on kids and parents — is no way to raise creative, intelligent children.

“When you’re on an airplane they tell you if cabin pressure drops the first thing you should do is put the mask on yourself, then your child,” he said. “You have to take care of yourself first to be a good parent.”