Epic Back-to-School Fails Your Kids Would Never Forgive You For

Our new parenting columnist proves you’re doing a better job than you think with these do’s and don'ts of the new school year.

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My name is Kate and I’m a mother of two children: a girl who is 21 and a boy who is 8. I am also a writer, on a number of subjects, including books, which I review every week for the Boston Globe. But one of my favorite things to write about is kids: mine, yours, and ours.

In this new weekly column, I’ll be covering all aspects of parenting—the agony and the ecstasy—from potty training to training bras, educational policy to trends in kid lit. I’ll cover stories on parenting and kids in the news, try to track down answers to burning parenting questions, pester experts for advice, and ponder celebrity parenting gossip.

I believe there is no one right way to make a family or to be a good parent, but there are plenty of wrong ways—and I’ve done some of them. My children came to me the old-fashioned way (unprotected boning), but many of my friends became parents through advanced reproductive technology, adoption, or by falling in love with someone who already had kids. Like a lot of you, I’ve seen my family change shape and size through divorce and remarriage, and also like a lot of you, I’ve had reproductive adventures that did not end in childbirth.

My children have different daddies and while that is cool with me, it’s awakened me to the reality that sometimes people are mean and judgmental about the choices other people make around things like reproduction and family. I’m going to try in this column to resist being mean and judgmental (though I reserve the right to gently mock those who are doing just fine, like royal babies and yummy mummy entrepreneurs).

Since many of us have just seen our children off to school in the past few weeks, I thought this would be good place to start. My parent friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have told a collective tale of children emboldened by too much screen time and to-hell-with-it amounts of late-summer Popsicles, revealing that many of us have been just barely hanging in there in the weeks before sending our little cherubs back to school. The resulting frayed parental nerves have had us all on edge.

So we should be glad our kids are back, right? And yet, back-to-school time brings its own nerve-wracking moments. Yes, the little ones are no longer overfoot, and that is good. But there are so many opportunities for parental failure: There are forms to fill out, fees to pay, binders to organize, lunches to pack, clothing to label.

To help all the parents out there struggling to get it together so everyone has a sane and happy school year, I’ve put together a few basic do’s … and some outrageous don’ts—because there’s no way you’ll be as epically horrible as these parents:

DO set up your email filters you need to make sure you see everything the school sends out. You don’t want to be the parent who has no idea it’s picture day, or your day to bring snack, or—God forbid, your child will never forgive you—pajama day.

DO put the school’s number into your phone immediately. You’ll never need it until you need it immediately and don’t have it.

DO plan your kid’s packed lunch as ruthlessly as an Ikea cafeteria manager: Buy, pack, and store a rotating set of the same few options you know your kid likes. Boring but edible is better than creative and ignored. Better yet, buy them the school lunch.

DON’T complain about your child’s school on social media like this Florida mom, whose Facebook posts about her son’s preschool got the kid booted out. The longer you can keep your child’s teachers from knowing you exist on social media, the better.

DON’T start a riot at the school bus pickup or drop off, like these Worcester, Massachusetts, parents who assaulted the bus driver and accused her of trying to kidnap their children—simply for letting the kids off in the order the district requested.

And whatever you do, DON’T try to pick up your kid at school after self-medicating with alcohol, weed, and.or oxycontin. There will be plenty of wine left when you get home, I promise.


Of course you won’t do any of these things, because you are sane. But you may feel tempted at times. After the early, cozy, all-encompassing years of baby and toddlerhood, having a child in school opens up whole new worlds, both for child and parent. Some of it is exhilarating and wonderful. Some of it will bring up horrible memories of your own school years, and drive you to gossip, fight, or drink. Which brings me to the only long-term DO I would really push: DO build a community of other parents you like and trust at your child’s school. You will know them a long time, and it will be so much better if you can find among them a tribe of people you can trust, lean on, and kvetch with. In the best-case scenario, you’ll watch their kids grow up and they will watch yours, and it will actually—really—be magical.




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