5 Things I Wish I Would’ve Known as a First-Time School Mom

Depending upon how today’s going, you’re either saying “pass the tissues” or “where’s the party?” I don’t think there’s one right reaction for a mom putting her first baby through school. It affects us all differently.

However, I suspect that for you veteran mommas, you’ve learned a thing or two as you’ve ushered in many a school year. My oldest is enjoying his last year of middle school and I might, if the heavens align properly, get a dashing photo of him as he tries to escape my click-clicking. Just trying to preserve the memories, son. If School Mom 2014 could tell School Mom 2006 five things, surely this is what she’d say:

5 Things I Wish I Would Have Known as a First-Time School Mom

1. Don’t bail your kids out. Did they forget their lunch? Let ’em bum snacks off their buddies. Did they leave the homework on the kitchen counter? The zero won’t kill them. Did their shorts get wet at field day? Let them sit in wet pants. Because let me tell you this. Better for them to learn the lesson in kindergarten to remember that lunch box, pack that homework and to steer clear of water soaking games, than to be “that kid.” The one who always calls on his mom to solve the problem. As your children get older and the consequences pack a bigger punch, it matters that they learn to figure it out. To figure out life, by themselves. Don’t be the middle school mom (or worse, the high school one) who’s carting her child’s lunchbox up to school. Cut the string, girlfriend. It might sting a tiny bit and you may have to wipe a few tears, but your child will grow up to be a problem solver who lets the small stuff slide and, instead, focuses on the big picture.

2. Skip the elaborate teacher gifts. In the early years I used to agonize over what to get the teacher as a beginning-of-school/Thanksgiving/Christmas/Valentine/Easter/end-of-year gift and you know what? It was ridiculous. Pinterest has crazy amounts of ideas on how to thank your teacher. As the daughter of a teacher, you know what I say? Give the teacher the gift of YOU. When your kid brings home a bad grade (after talking to your child first), reach out to the teacher and find out how it can be improved the next time. Pray for your teacher. God knows they need it with all the demands on their time and resources. Be a cheerleader, not a naysayer. Your child’s teacher needs to know that you’re a part of the teaching and learning team. While a stack of highlighters, tied with a fancy bow and a cute saying on cardstock look pinnable, the thing that really matters is helping your child become smarter, more confident and successful. No coffee mug or gift card tree can do that.

3. Get in the pictures with your kids on the first day of school. Yes, I know you are going to lose the 20 pounds (someday), that your hair looked better (yesterday), that the outfit you planned to wear isn’t clean (ever). But, you know what? In 20 years your kids want to see pictures of you, momma. They want to see you hugging them on the first day, giving them a high five and wiping away your tears. YOU matter to your kid. So, get your hiney in the photo. Oh, and don’t forget the camera. Or the charger. (Not that I’ve ever done that, ahem.)

2nd day of school

(This is our infamous second day of school photo in 2006 since the first day of school EVER for our family, we were 20 minutes late. Mom of the year!)

4. Avoid contracting VD. You know, Volunteer Disease. As I was signing my fifth sign-up sheet at my son’s very first back-to-school night, a very wise mom patted my shoulder and uttered the very best school advice I’ve ever received. “If you’re volunteering so much that you have to get a sitter to watch after your other children, perhaps it’s time to step back.” I promptly erased my name from all those lists. You see, I had forgotten that for everything in life, there is a season. There’s the “many little people at home” season, the “big people can all wipe their own hineys” season and every season in between. Be passionate about your volunteerism, but know your limitations. Respect them or they will rule you.

5. Leave the regrets behind. I think all of us worries that perhaps we didn’t fully embrace the carefree nature of summer, lived “in the moment” enough, read to our children the right minutes, taught them all the life lessons they’ll need or showed them the basic necessities. The reality is, we have to trust that what we’re doing is enough. Some days you’re hot, you’re on it and you earn major cool mom points. Other days? Um, perhaps not. And that’s okay. Own your life and the role you have in your child’s development and love every moment. Even the hard ones. Because when your child walks across that graduation stage, the only thing you’ll want your heart to remember is the love and not its shortcomings.

Happy first day of school, momma!first day_blog

Let’s make it a great 2014-2015!


  1. Michelle @ Endless Strength on August 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    I love this post. I could add a few things. My oldest began her last year of middle school yesterday, too. I learned all the things you talk about. Although, I guess I haven’t really learned to get in the picture…oops. I have tons of kiddo pics, though. I am getting into more pictures than I did before…but just not the first day of school photos. 🙂

  2. Cathy on August 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Monday will be the “last” first day of school for us – our youngest is a senior this year. I’ll be lucky to get a snap of him at all… ((sigh)) I have enjoyed every age and every stage, but it’s true that some bring more tears than others. I second every lesson above, but never even thought about getting in the picture with my kids. I would just add to let your kids experience school in their own way. You can encourage them to try new things, but let them make the decision about what activities they want to participate in, and what classes they want to take (within reason!).

    • Kathryn on August 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm

      Cathy, that is fantastic advice. A new #6! It’s hard for us to step back and let them make their own path but it’s oh so important!

  3. Meggan on August 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Please don’t laugh, but my first is starting pre-k 3 on Thursday, and I have been so emotional. This will be his “home” until the end of 8th grade, and I think the reality of that is sinking in. He’s also one of only a couple of kids in his class who is the first born without any siblings at the school. So of course, I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over whether I’ve done enough to prepare him for this new environment. I think I definitely needed to hear #5. So, thank you.

    • Kathryn on August 21, 2014 at 9:41 pm

      No laughter, just solidarity! I hope it went well today!

  4. Karen on August 20, 2014 at 2:44 am

    I was thinking that I really should get in the pictures more, because even though I *might* improve my hair, makeup, and clothes in the future, I will never look any younger (and I’m not that young to start with!)

  5. Angela on August 20, 2014 at 5:54 am

    Firstly, what a beautiful photo!

    Our school systems are different (I live in Australia) but your tips are spot on – great advice!

    Best wishes for a wonderful school year for your children.

  6. Cate on August 20, 2014 at 7:11 am

    Such great advice! I’ll definitely be embracing 1, 3, and 5 as a homeschooler, too! I get so caught up in the kids being “okay” that I forget to let natural consequences do their work and let my kids actually learn the lessons that will help them grow and become independent. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  7. Nell @ Whole Parenting Family on August 20, 2014 at 8:23 am

    Sage words from a sage woman!

  8. Nicole on August 20, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Oh so true! I think #1 is the hardest for me. I skip #2 (kind of always have… like you, I believe in the gift of time for the teachers). #4 had me at hello! I make sure to volunteer once a semester per kid – bonus if I can get ‘er done on the same day back to back. I want those teachers to at least see me more than just at conference time.

    I don’t do a good job on the first day of school photos, but always do on each of their birthdays. And #5 is just perfect advice. The advice I wish someone had told me includes remembering that you will be seeing all of these same families for years – get to know them, their children and their children’s interests. It helps so much with carpools, playdates, camp and VBS coordination, etc.

    Thanks for the reminders and tips! I know that even though we are onto our 4th first day of school starting next week, it doesn’t get easier.

  9. Melody on August 20, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Thank you for the sage advice. I’m a 1st time parent of a kindergartner and I think I’ve grayed a bit more this summer anticipating this school year. I love the bit about getting in the photos (Guilty!), over-volunteering, and Pinterest gift ideas (as I peek over at my craft supplies with the “what if” and “I can do that too” ideas overflowing the bins). I love to give of myself but learned long ago (last week? or last month?) about stretching myself too thin, especially with a military spouse who always seems to be traveling for work when he isn’t deployed for months at a time. Thanks, girlfriend, for the inspiration.

  10. Amanda on August 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I LOVE this advice. I can relate to almost everything you have mentioned, especially the bailing kids out and teacher gifts. As a teacher myself, it would drive me crazy when parents would be the “BAIL OUT” parents, but when I became a parent I was singing a different tune. I have been that parent that would drop off forgotten lunches and homework. Now that I am a mother of four children, I can see how important it is to make sure they become responsible. This year my oldest has joined a football team, and booooooy was I nervous. Part of me wants to keep him in a little bubble and never let him out, but I know he will be okay. Thanks for the advice! I really enjoy this blog and the comments. I’m glad I am not the only mom to have tears in her eyes when my children start new journeys.

    • Kathryn on August 21, 2014 at 9:43 pm

      Oh, I bet you can tell some good teacher stories! It is hard to protect your kids while also giving them permission to go live life. Motherhood is bittersweet.

  11. Canadian Anne on August 20, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    GREAT advice! Especially about volunteering. I used to beat myself up a lot for not being on most (read: every) field trip that my kids’ classes take. The reality is, I detest volunteering on field trips…and my kids are at the age where they don’t want Mum on every class outing. So, I was excited and relieved to find out our school’s library was desperate for volunteers…to do actual library work (like shelving, repairing and processing books)…AND, since I have work experience in library work, it was a blessed fit. Our librarian is over the moon to have someone in one to two times per week to do work.
    Here’s a question for you school mums: how do you balance the too much/not enough food in the lunchbox thing? I struggled with that a lot last year, and never really found a happy place. If I pack too much lunch for my daughter, (going in Grade 6 this fall), she gets overwhelmed and won’t eat enough, sometimes not at all. If I don’t pack enough, she’s grumpier than a mother bear with cubs after school. I also struggle with our school’s appalling timeframe for eating…it’s not near enough time. And my daughter is a slower eater, so sometimes she doesn’t get to everything because of time. Ideas, anyone????!!!

    • Cathy on August 20, 2014 at 5:03 pm

      Try letting her pack her own lunch (or helping you). I learned a long time ago that my kids were much more likely to eat something they packed. I just kept the pantry & fridge stocked with multiple options.

    • Kathryn on August 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Amen to what Cathy said. Let her pack her own lunch. We’ve started doing that with our older ones and it makes a HUGE difference. Of course, we have to give them a few rules or they’d just pack salami and goldfish!

      • Canadian Anne on September 4, 2014 at 10:49 am

        So, almost at the end of the first week of school and BOTH kids wanted to pack their own lunches this year. They’ve been doing it…organizing and rounding things up the night before…some things in lunchboxes the night before, some in the fridge, then assemble in the morning and Bob’s your uncle. It’s been great, and 98% of the food is getting eaten.
        Hubby and I do Quality Control checks…probably for the first while we will every night…then I’m hoping we can do random spot checks at some point. We will see.
        But, so far so good! 🙂 Thanks for the advice/encouragement!

        • Kathryn on September 4, 2014 at 10:50 am

          Woo hoo! Glad to hear it’s going so smoothly.

  12. Jennifer Niemann on August 20, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    When we lived in Fresno the kids attended a school that included many low-income families. Teachers received a bag of supplies for their classes, including the bare minimum of paper clips, rubber bands, etc. for their own use. They had to purchase a lot of things for their classrooms, so for one teacher gift we bought a plastic craft container with lots of compartments and filled it with all the essentials for the teacher. A great gift for them and not a budget buster for us.

    Loved your tips! And I will figure out a way to get in those first day of school pics!

    • Kathryn on August 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      That’s brilliant, Jen.

  13. Gachia on August 20, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    One of our great traditions was inviting the teachers to dinner toward the end of the school year. Everyone seemed to enjoy the time together. We usually played spoons, too!

    My daughters even sent first day of school photos to me when they were in college! I still have those photos posted in my sewing room.

    • Kathryn on August 21, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      I LOVE that idea, Gachia. Imitation = flattery, right? We may just have to do that at the end of the school year.

  14. Meg on August 21, 2014 at 10:21 am

    EXCELLENT article! Please please please send this to get published on a larger scale! 🙂 As a teacher, now mama, your points are true and realistic! Thanks for writing!

    • Kathryn on August 21, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks Meg. You’re so sweet!!

  15. Mom of 8 on August 21, 2014 at 10:48 am

    I have been in “the season of having little ones at home” for 12 years now, as I have 8 kids. I have found it better for me to be an Indian instead of a chief when it comes to volunteering. I am happy to send in napkins, plates cookies, craft items that I can pick up at the store when I am shopping for the family instead of coordinating and attending. Make sure what ever you send in the child can carry in their backpack, hence jump on the sign up sheets/websites early to find the light items ; )

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