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Back to School Parent Guilt

By Kristal Clark

I was scrolling through my emails, weeding out junk and paying bills, when I saw it. I knew what it was before I even clicked on it. I felt a familiar twinge of anxiety, followed by a sense of dread. After hovering over the link with my mouse for a few moments, I clicked on it, finding exactly what I expected: the 2022-2023 school supplies list for my kids’ school.

In theory, the school supplies list is a basic list of what each child needs for the upcoming year. When I look at it, though, I see so much more. It’s the anxiety around how much it will all cost, what brands and styles to buy, and how many items to buy from the optional teacher “wish list.” What if my kid doesn’t have the same style of pens that all the other kids have? Will other kids single them out? What if I don’t buy enough from the teacher’s wish list? Will my child be treated differently because of that?

All of these questions are related to one bigger question for me: What if my child has a difficult year and it is my fault?

This is the process I go through every single year. It’s an anxiety that is predictable, while also catching me off guard each time. When I look back at the last 10 years of buying school supplies, it is evident that my anxieties have never played out in real life. My kids have never been singled out because they have the wrong pens, they have never been treated poorly by their teachers, and the quality of their experience has never been affected by the school supplies they start the year with.

Even while experiencing this anxiety, I know that this list will not determine the outcome of my kids’ year. I know that the guilt I am feeling is because I’m a parent and parents worry about whether they are doing the right things, even when it’s the same thing they do every year and even when it has always been right.

If you are experiencing parent guilt around doing enough to get your kids ready to go back to school, know that you are not alone. Remind yourself that you know how to do this. Give yourself the same grace that you give your kids when they are anxious. Most importantly, know that you are doing a good job, that this will pass soon, and that you have prepared them for the year ahead.

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