Why primary school is the next hurdle for an anxious parent

Kinderling News & Features

I’ve thought a lot about how you develop your own style of parenting, and how you become comfortable in your parenting skin.

These days I’m much more relaxed about how much sugar my children consume, I totally embrace co-sleeping and I feel less guilty when I flick on the TV to get ready for work in the morning.

But then my daughter started primary school, and I realise I have sorted nothing.

Primary school has its own set of expectations to navigate

Now my daughter is in her second year of primary school, I realise that I have a whole new level of parenting heights to scale.

By now I should know that comparing yourself to other families is a sure-fire path to misery. And still I do it. Here are a few of the areas where I judge myself against other parents.

1. Extra-curricular activities

Other kids are doing ballet, music and languages. Darcy used to do swimming lessons, and then she learnt to swim. So we stopped. No other activities followed for a number of reasons.

To begin with it was about money (we couldn’t afford it), then we tried a few things and nothing held her interest, so we didn’t commit. Mostly it’s because she likes to hang out with us on the weekend, and we with her. It simplifies life and we like it that way.

Still. Every so often I get twinges that she should be doing more.

2. Homework is a struggle

As I’ve said before. I hate homework. I love learning, but homework is just another thing to add to a very busy day. It doesn’t help that I’ve read all the research about how homework doesn’t help kids learn until they’re in high school. Nor does it help that I believe in kids playing and having fun for as long as is humanely possible.

Then I hear other parents talk about how they sit with their children and go through spelling, maths and maybe even science. And I think. I’m not supporting her enough, she needs more discipline. I need more discipline.

3. Concerts and volunteer reading groups

I know it’s important to be involved in school life. Whether that’s volunteering in a reading group or getting along to an assembly here or there. And while I always make a big effort for the end of year concert, my contribution to the school is limited by my working hours.

It’s not just a sense of obligation that makes me feel wanting in this respect. I’ve seen the look on Darcy’s face when I’m at school with her- not just to pick her up or drop her off. She lights up and she’s excited that I’m there.

I also miss out on getting to know the other parents and forming a community with other adults who are going through similar experiences with their kids.

4. Book Week

Last year at the Book Week parade, one mother had dressed her two children as the snail and the whale (from the Julia Donaldson book of the same name). The costumes were spectacular, and they were made by hand.

Poor old Darcy went as Harry Potter, wearing a costume ordered online with a lopsided Elvis wig that was too big for her head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that real parents make their costumes with love, until 3am, possibly spending afternoons with their child painstakingly bedazzling said costume.

I’m plagued by insecurity when it comes to Darcy’s teachers

When I go to parent-teacher night I’m nervous, like we’re about to talk about my parenting failures (not how Darcy is going at school).

Sitting across from her teacher (who is lovely, by the way) I’m thinking – does she know how bad we are with homework? She certainly knows I don’t volunteer, does she think I’m a bad parent?

It doesn’t help that I’m perched on a tiny chair, in front of a tiny desk, with the paraphernalia of school activities all around me. Even though logically I know we are peers, there’s a part of me that feels like I’m back at school.

Talk about performance anxiety.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing

I am quite sure I could have spared myself some of the worry I had over things like sugar, co-sleeping and screen time when my children were younger, now that I look back from the comfortable place of the present.

Then, as now, it was about looking at my children and my family and asking the simple question: is this working for us? Is this making us happy?  At the moment the answer to that question is yes.

And while it’s a simple question with a simple answer, it should be enough to blow away all the anxieties that I’m failing as a parent.

But unless I stop my own propensity to compare myself with others, each part of this parenting journey is going to be plagued with anxiety.

And who wants that?