Now that my kids are 13, 11 and 9, I can confidently confess that our house has always been a back to school disaster or BTS mess! Surprisingly, the children have managed to survive and even thrive despite obvious parental deficits.

By late September, annual vows to do better, get up earlier, make lunches the night before and lay out clothes have been broken and instead we get up too late, stuff lunch bags in haste and hiss unforgivable things at each other.

This fall will require the earliest exits yet and unless fashion suddenly selects eyebrows styled with reheated soup as a hot trend for fall, our team will simply have to create a more efficient routine. To prepare, I organized ten years of my best BTS tips, developed mostly through error, and pledge in writing that this year will be different…

Back to School Survival Tips

1. Prepare

Preparing the night before is like going to the gym. Often dreaded but rarely regretted. Cutting up the veggies, making the sandwiches and filling out the forms is drudgery but feels like a gift the next day. A stash of loonies and envelopes in the kitchen drawer has prevented many undesired treasure hunts.

2. Strategize

Selecting weather appropriate clothing together the night before saves on battles and as certain ages more aggressively assert their freedom of choice, it is sometimes safer to lay out two outfits. Digging up the day’s school-related dramas before nightfall, might avoid wails of, “Well I can’t go to school today because my teacher hates me!!!!” five minutes prior to departure.

3. Enlist Help

After a fabulous teacher, ahem Madame Julie, taught our kids to use large cooking knives at school, I stopped fearing bloodshed and put them to work. I soon learned that lunches made by the eater rarely return uneaten, and with assistance from the bagel slicer, egg sandwich maker and blender everyone can now make their own healthy breakfast.  

4. Stock up on Supplies  

One of the greatest gifts I give to my sweet sanity is to purchase necessary supplies in duplicate. Having two lunch boxes per kid prevents the horror of realizing that this necessary item has been left at school, on the bus, or in the bushes. Same goes for the water bottle. Last year we also rediscovered the magic of the original brown paper bag, sold in packages of 100.  

5. Take Prisoners

When the kids were tiny, I soon discovered that sequestering them downstairs following breakfast was key to getting them out the door on time. This meant outfitting the powder room with tooth and hair brushing tools. My smart sister-in-law even keeps a bin of socks available. To be honest, I have no idea how I kept them downstairs during those years, as nature has kindly erased the memories, but I suspect my bathrobe belt might have played a role in either blocking the stairs or tying them together?

6. Divide and Conquer

The biggest a.m. fights in my house tend to break out when everyone is rushed, tired and piled up in one small area. Personal space defuses tension and to me, a hair salon complete with blow dryer in the living room is well worth the aesthetic sacrifice.   

7. Prepare for Battle

Sick kids, even the fakers, definitely pull at the heartstrings. Of course students should stay home when they are truly sick but mine would take to the couch with one tiny sneeze if permitted. To prevent, The-Office-Let-Me-Call-itis, consider packing your teensy invalid a little kit including their own Kleenex, lip-balm and lozenges. Warm tea with milk and honey, in an insulated bottle, is also great medicine for mild classroom sniffles.   

8. Stay Together

Nothing feels worse than a morning where one of mine leaves home upset, especially if we have had words. I have always tried to put a little note or drawing in their lunchboxes to stay connected, but easier said than done. My new trick is to sneak in a Hershey’s Kiss or Hug and fun napkin. To avoid embarrassing older kids, tiny pages from tear off daily calendars, featuring jokes, quotes or trivia make me feel like we have touched base in the middle of a long day.

9. Protect Yourself

The years have taught me that parenting is a marathon meant to be run with pace and self-preservation as top priorities. For me, setting an alarm so that there is time to sip my coffee in bed makes me feel like I have been cared for before the day begins. I also strive to insist that my children treat me respectfully in the early hours using a quote served by Matthew McConaughey’s mother to her three boys: Don’t sit down at my kitchen table until you are going to see the roses in the vase instead of the dust on the table.”

10. Surrender

There are still so many BTS tips and failings for me to gather. Especially for the teen years. I don’t suppose pouring vodka into the coffeemaker is a good one…  To date the most important thing I have learned, and wish it hadn’t taken me so long, is to care less about the little things. I now realize that teachers don’t notice if the dress and leggings match or if a haircut is needed. My third child has proved to me that mismatched socks are perfectly fine and I don’t think her hair has been tamed in at least three months. There is simply too much pressure on parents, and one of my goals this fall is to let go of the things I worry I “should” be doing.

Best of luck as your family faces BTS this September. If you are looking for me I will be that teary woman whispering “thank you” to the boxes of prepackaged snacks at Costco.


Chloe Girvan is Mom Interrupted, a freelance writer and mother of three living in Ottawa. She uses her law degree daily to negotiate peace in the kitchen and considers the lock on the master bathroom door to be her most prized possession. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @Mom_interrupted.