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6 ways to make the back-to-school transition easier for working moms

Jennifer Folsom, author of the upcoming book "The Ringmaster," lays out tactical moves she uses for a smooth back-to-school transition.
Jennifer Folsom with sons Anderson,12, Will, 17, and Josh 17.
Jennifer Folsom with sons Anderson,12, Will, 17, and Josh 17.Courtesy of Jennifer Folsom.

Between the Sign-Up Genius requests and “Welcome to...” emails from every teacher, administrator, coach and scout leader, chances are your email inbox is probably full before you even get into the office.

And while you're looking forward to the regularity of the school year, the overwhelm has probably started to set in. Your brain is probably full of questions, like "How will I manage pickups and drop offs?" or "How can I possibly have time to help with homework?"

It's an exciting — but challenging — time of year.

You know you need to wrangle reams of paperwork and buy a small country’s worth of school supplies, but I've found there are also some tactical moves that are the “secret sauce” for a smooth back-to-school transition. As my high school seniors approach their last “first day,” I have amassed a few survival skills for starting the new school year on the right foot:

Emergency contact

After I took the second teacher call one day last spring, I had a mild freak out that I’m not terribly proud of. “Why do you always call ME? My husband is off today and is two blocks from home, I’m in a meeting an hour away.” “Well,” the sweet teacher told me, “you’re the first number on the parent contact list.” Lesson learned. Put parent #2 on there, if applicable. Maybe even in the contact #1 spot.

Attendance lines

If you have children in multiple schools, there are different processes, times and numbers for calling in sick children or writing early dismissal notes for orthodontist appointments. Put the name of each school into your iPhones now, with the appropriate instructions.

Stop the school supply madness

OK, so you missed the tax-free supply shopping weekend. No big deal. Print the list, but shop at home first. Gather all of the leftover supplies, glean from that, then make your shopping list. If you can only find the 3x5 index cards, not the 4x6, fine. Get them. Or don’t, and check back at Target next week (because you know you’ll be at Target next week). The point is, the teacher won’t use all of the darned 4x6 cards in the first week of school. Let yourself off the hook.


It’s time for soccer registration, ballet enrollment and dozens of other signups. How can you say no to any of them? You’re growing a well-rounded child! But do yourself (and your family) a favor: Before you actually register and write a check, add every single practice, game and obligation on your calendar for each activity. Is this how you want your fall to look? Are there any Sunday evenings that allow for family dinner and game night? Any free weekends to visit the cousins? If not, it’s time to pair back. It won’t be popular, but you will feel sane and actually have some family down time. One season on a sports hiatus will not preclude college admissions; I promise.


Despite substantial improvements in electronic records management in every other part of your life from the DMV to your doctor’s office, back to school brings a mountain of paper forms to be completed. Share the love! I ask my children (starting from about age 8) to help with the forms. They know the basics. It's time to learn how to track down missing information and avoid mom developing carpal tunnel syndrome. You need to actually teach your children their social security numbers and school IDs much as you did your phone number and address. If not, you might find yourself as I did, with a major client presentation interrupted by plaintive texts, “MOM! It’s an emergency! I can’t fill out this summer job application because I don’t know what my social security number is!”

Time for YOU

And if you are lucky enough to work in a job with some flexibility and haven’t burned through all of your Paid Time Off patching together summer daycare, take the first day of school off. Or even a half day. Walk your daughter to school. Anticipate some nervousness, maybe even a few tears. And while they’re in the school’s safekeeping, treat yourself to a pedicure or coffee with a friend or to just sit in your house in silence. Because congratulations, you made it to another school year!

Jennifer Folsom is the chief of corporate development at Washington, D.C.-based data analytics consulting firm Summit LLC. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband Ben and three sons, 17-year-old twins Josh and Will, and 12-year-old Anderson. Her practical guide to modern working motherhood,"The Ringmaster," will be out this fall