Letting Go of First Day of School Expectations: Advice to the Mom I was Two Years Ago

I wrote this blog post in 2017 in the midst of a super chaotic season. Fast forward two years, and we're in the middle of yet another first week of school. If the me now could say anything to the me back then (and any other moms that can relate), it would be this:

Life is still crazy...It's still messy and full of chaos, but believe it or not, you were right. It doesn't have to be full of unrealistic expectations. I promise you this because I am here now. You'll find happiness in the mess. You'll find peace in the chaos. You'll learn contentedness in the things that you do have, and you'll be so dang proud of how far you've come...even if it's not how you pictured it.

You took a picture today, and it still wasn't Pinterest worthy. It didn't have the chalk board or anything else that the other moms so beautifully have, but you know now that none of that matters.

What matters is that you were there. You soaked it in. Your child went off to school knowing he was loved and that he would find a quickly scribbled but meaningful little note in his lunch box. You're doing okay, and you'll be just fine. Stop comparing and give yourself grace. Enjoy the snap shot of your babies. They aren't fancy, but the message and the lesson behind them is so much more important.

Keep your head up, you're doing great.



August, 2017

It wasn't one big thing, it was a mountain of little things.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to stare at my little boy, breathe in the moment, and pout about the fact that he's really not so little anymore, but I had stuff to do.

It was his first day of school. Like first first day. Kindergarten.

And I didn't even shed a tear. Not one. The day came and went, and that was it.

There were little glimpses throughout the following days that I'd start getting choked up thinking about him heading off to school, but then I'd think about my tasks ahead, and onto the next think I'd go. Before I knew it, the first week of school was over. It was like I snapped my fingers and it was gone.

It wasn't until I got a text from a family member asking to see first day of school pictures that it really hit me.

Maybe they weren't expecting anything elaborate, but I was.

Since I've been a little girl, I've had this expectation. This dream of being THAT mom. You know, the one that always has her ducks in a row. The one that never loses her cool.

"You need a bandaid, or an ice pack, or a 5 course meal?! I've got one in my purse!!"

And of course, the type of mom that takes the first day of school photos.

Not just a quick snap-shot, but the whole gamut. You know, the pictures where my husband and I are standing around and gawking at how handsome our little boy is. I shed some tears, my husband consoles me and says something cliche, my son groans about having to hold this big sign that says his teachers name, how many teeth he has, his age, and so on...

But in the midst of all of that, we get the picture. The one that I can refer to when he is graduating and say, "I remember your first day like it was yesterday."

A moment frozen in time.

I thought back to that morning and cringed. Not something I really want to remember. Not one of my proudest moments. I remembered my son running late because he couldn't get his hair right. Of course, I was upset that we weren't going to be on time. So, rather than trying to calm his nerves and deciding that sending a late but peaceful kid to school would be better than sending a rushed and flustered one, I lost control. I blew a fuse and screamed at him about how he needed to hurry up, and he was making us late.

Yes, I did.

I screamed at my 5-year-old about his hair on his first day of school.

Go ahead and say it, I'm a monster. I don't even know why it was like this...Well I kind of do.

Despite the fact that I scurried to pack his lunch the night before, and we laid out his outfit, and attempted to check everything off of the list, I still felt like a slacker. Everything that I did was half-hearted. Even school supply shopping was a rush one night after work. I had nothing planned. No special sign, nothing cute or special planned for breakfast...yet I was paralyzed. I contemplated staying up to get all of this stuff done, but I was so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I had to do otherwise, that I just didn't.

Instead, after my kids went to bed, I stayed up late getting caught upon my actual work just trying to put a dent in my to-do list. My husband got home late and much to my dismay, he informed me he wouldn't be able to be around for the mornings events because he'd have to leave for work before the sun rose.

I know it's hard for him to miss. I know he'd rather be home with us than up early for work, but it's also hard for me to see him miss. He's got a way of calming situations. I tend to be more high strung, and his level headedness sets the tone. My husband knows what to say, so I was a little bummed he wouldn't be there.

Back to that morning. Everything about it was rushed. I was tired. My son was tired. I felt as if I had let him down by not getting him amped up for the first day like my parents always had when I was as a kid. He just didn't seem excited, and he was not fun to get ready...at all. At this point I was regretting not doing anything a Pinterest mom would do. I could tell my poor attitude had transferred over to my son, but I didn't have time to fix it.

He rushed downstairs---still upset about the blowup, threw on his shoes, ate something quick and probably unhealthy, and we ran out the door.

And then I remembered...THE PICTURE!

I yelled for him to come back really quick so I could snap a picture. Of course, he didn't want to. (We had that part down.) I got a few quick shots anyway, and off we went.

He was mad, I was mad.

Thankfully on the way to school, I was able to collect myself enough to apologize.

I felt like I blew it. I lost my cool and I couldn't take it back. Not only that, but I could tell that I really hurt my son. I've spent 26 years preparing for this, and it went nothing like what I had planned.

After school, we didn't talk about it. The next week I got that text message from a family member asking for his first day of school pictures. I was driving home from dropping him off, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I've spent so much time setting these expectations that are completely unrealistic for our lives right now. I'm not a Pinterest mom. I'm not a PTA mom. My purse does not have bandaids. It's full of smashed Goldfish from my two-year old. My life is busy right now, and I didn't plan for this.

But that doesn't make me a bad mom. It doesn't make me any less of a mom.

I think those moms are fantastic. I LOVE seeing all of the elaborate photos. I think it's amazing to see  each and every mom doing her thing. But what I have come to realize is that her thing doesn't need to be my thing in order for me to be good enough for my kids.

Our kids don't care about some elaborate picture, my husband isn't here all the time, and right now, a quick snapshot has to be good enough---and guess what? One day that story will be just as good. Had I accepted the fact that our life is messy right now and embraced the moments that God laid out despite my own plans and ideas, that morning would have gone a lot differently.

Our stories can be different than what we daydreamed about as little girls. We can still find happiness and peace despite the fact that our lives might look much different than we had planned because sometimes God's plan for us is different than our daydreams---and God's plan is always better.

Does that mean I never have to try to do cute Pinterest stuff for my kids?

No! But if it's stealing my peace, it's not worth it!

And if things are not going the way I planned despite my best effort, theres a reason. Rather than clinging to my ideals of being a perfect mom, I need to let them go and embrace the fact that things can go differently than other families. and even my own plans.

Looking back, I have realized that the morning could have gone way better had I just let go of the crazy ridiculous expectations that I had set for myself. Life is hard. Being a grown up can be difficult. Being a kid is hard. But I failed as a mom that day---because of my attitude, NOT because I didn't get the picture.


This year, I let go of those ideals--and guess what? I still didn't get the elaborate picture, but I did get the perfect one because instead, I was present. I let the morning flow without crazy expectations. I let my son enjoy breakfast as I listened to him talk. I let him pick out his outfit, and style his hair exactly how he wanted. I reminded him to be a leader and that he would always be loved, and as we walked out to head to school, I quickly snapped a shot and it was absolutely perfect.

I was the calm to my sons nerves. And I like to think that he will always remember the way I made him feel that morning.

Let go of your ideals as a mom. Stop trying to make everything look good, because if it doesn't feel good what does looking good matter?

It's not about the picture. If you have the sign and the first day of school photo, please don't take offense. I applaud you for pulling it off.

But for me I learned that it's not about the picture. It's about letting go of the crazy expectations that we put on ourselves as moms. Let them go, and let yourself be in the moment. And if that means that you have to give something up, (like the picture for me) then give it up. It's not worth your peace.

I'm attaching this years photo to this post. It's not fancy, but it's perfect.

I would LOVE to see your back to school pictures. I'd like to see the signs. I'd like to see the breakfasts, and I would also like to see the simple and rushed snapshots. But more importantly, I want to hear about the memories. I want to hear about the impact that you are making on your kids.

Let go of the ideals and focus on your impact behind the scenes.

You're doing a great job, Mama. Don't beat yourself up.

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