Dear Kindergarten Mom, I Know This Was Supposed to Be Your Year Too

Inside: Kindergarten is a huge milestone for kids, but also for many moms. For the new kindergarten mom wondering how this year is going to impact your career, you aren’t alone.

Dear Kindergarten Mom,

How are you doing?

No, really. How are YOU doing?

The Great Kindergarten Transition

If your answer to “how are you?” is “totally flipping out about possible school schedules,” I get it.

If your answer is “I can’t even think about this right now because it’s so stressful,” I get that too.

And if your answer is “I’m worried about my kid, but I’m also a little worried about myself…” I want you to know that you are not alone. There are a lot of moms riding in that boat.

Kindergarten is a big transition in your child’s life. And this year, woah…this is next level. There is so much to think about beyond what size backpack to buy, and still so many unknowns. I would write about what we’re all supposed to do about school buses, sharing crayons, and playgrounds, but it wouldn’t be particularly helpful because I don’t have a crystal ball to tell me what kindergarten will look like for my first-born. (Although I desperately wish I did.)

Sans crystal ball, I do want to talk about how the kindergarten milestone and uncertainty is impacting you. You want your kids and your community to be safe and happy, but it’s not selfish to worry about what this means for your career. This is a big year, perhaps you thought it was going to be an even bigger year, and there’s a lot to think about.

To the Stay at Home Kindergarten Mom

In my anecdotal and qualitative research on this topic of kindergarten motherhood (read: talking to moms about this at birthday parties for a few years), I’ve heard a lot of similar stories from moms approaching the kindergarten milestone.

For many stay at home moms, they are thinking about going back to work when their youngest starts kindergarten because daytime childcare needs will be lessened. Or at least that was the thought. Some of these moms see this as an exciting prospect while at the same time feeling like it’s incredibly daunting. How do I get back into the workforce after five or more years away? What do I even want to do? Will my skills still be valued? Do I need to push that goal back now?

An overlapping group in this very scientific study of mine are the moms who view working outside of the home as a scary change, but necessary for financial reasons. As we’re hit with a recession, this concern is even more heightened. But working outside the home, and even working from home, comes with concerns about after school care, flexible hours, and health and safety. What kind of work schedule would work for me and does that job exist?

Then there are still others who want to continue staying at home after their child goes to kindergarten because during this transition it feels like their family needs them at home now more than ever. But there is pressure. Pressure to stay, and pressure to go.

There’s a lot to think about. A lot to stress about.

To the Working Kindergarten Mom

When I’ve had the kindergarten conversation with other working moms, there are a few key themes.

Some moms feel like they are in the right spot, while others are thinking about finding new jobs when their child starts kindergarten. Their current jobs have worked up until now because daycare hours allow for 7:30 AM drop-offs and 5:30 PM pickups. But with kindergarten comes a whole new complicated ball game of buses and after school care. There will be school vacations and half days to account for, and what if my kid forgets his lunch box at home? Are my hours still feasible, is this commute still feasible?

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And then there are working moms who are wondering if now is the time to hit pause on their careers because of all the added home responsibilities coming their way. Remote learning, hybrid learning, homeschooling? With the gender wage gap, often it’s moms making this call because the math favors our male partners’ salaries.

Then for some moms, the kindergarten transition isn’t as much about money or lack of time, but it’s about this feeling of the passage of time that is tugging at them. There’s the realization that they haven’t hit pause in the past little kid five years to determine if the work they are doing is actually what they want to be doing for the next 30 years. Is now the time to pause and reconsider, or is that pause now on hold?

There’s a lot to think about. A lot to stress about.

From This Kindergarten Mom

If these concerns and questions seem very specific, it’s because I’m the creep who writes down notes in her phone after interesting conversations. But it’s also because while these thoughts are from other moms, many of them are also from my own 2 AM musings.

They are thoughts I’ve mulled over and tossed and turned with. They are thoughts that have kept me up at night, and thoughts that laid the groundwork for starting my own business.

Truth be told, I’ve been thinking about what kindergarten means not just for my son, but for my whole family, for nearly five years. What can I say? I’m a planner. A planner whose anxiety has kicked into the highest of gears with all the unknowns of fall 2020. And a planner whose best-laid plans have shifted in the past four months as we wait for more information from well, everyone!

It’s been a lot to think about. A lot to stress about.

Dear Kindergarten Mom, I Know This Was Supposed to Be Your Year Too

To Every Kindergarten Mom

Here’s what I know for sure though. When we do talk about these thoughts and these stressors, it gets just a little bit easier.

Openly talking about the complicated dynamics of being a kindergarten mom gives our thoughts some breathing room. There are tight quarters up in our brains, especially right now as we all try to teach preschool, attend video conference meetings, make the mac and cheese, and be good friends and neighbors. These thoughts need space, and they need a sounding board.

The best part about talking this out? When we are open about our hopes, dreams, and fears, the sisterhood of motherhood kicks in. Together we can help each other along with listening ears, supportive smiles, and some good nuggets of advice along the way.

As an almost kindergarten mom myself, I know I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have a lot of questions, specifically around scheduling, appropriate snacks, and new math. But my work as a career coach has shown me time and time again that talking about the thoughts whirling in our heads and continuing to ask questions is what leads to answers.

Let’s Keep Talking, Kindergarten Moms

So, kindergarten moms, if I’ve struck a chord here and given a voice to your concerns, keep the conversation going.

Turn to your friends, turn to your partner, turn to your coworkers, turn to me if you want! But keep the conversation going. Give those thoughts a voice instead of letting them swirl.

It’s perfectly normal to wonder what this next stage of your life is going to look like. If it will change, if it will stay the same. If you want it to change, if you want it to stay the same.

So talk about it. Figure out what you want. Change your mind a half a dozen times. Figure it out some more. Make a plan, and then be prepared to be flexible with that plan. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it is that we need to be like bendy straws – ready to stretch, move, and change shape in order to succeed.

But however you’re bending, always keep your sights on what success looks like to you and your family. It’s no one else’s success but your own, and I’ll be right here cheering you on.

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