TJ’s academic career is now well underway after starting school a few action packed weeks ago. It’s been quite the rollercoaster ride already. The busy mornings, the chat with fellow parents at the gate, the rushing back to the (home) office, the cramming as much into those free hours as possible, the beginnings of homework (!) and a whole load of laundry. It’s the life admin which all parents and caregivers expect as one era ends and another begins.

A deluge of cutesy photos flood social media every September as kids head off to the classroom. Smiles, smart uniforms and perfectly styled hair are the hallmarks of that unforgettable moment.

Early days

There’s been some truly blissful parenting moments already. TJ has been full of enthusiasm for the things which he’s learning. During lockdown, we did some (rather poorly delivered) home schooling and his thirst for knowledge is just as strong. He’s singing songs, sharing random facts, and enjoying even more books to sit alongside the stacks stored in his bedroom.

TJ starting school began with smiles and minimal stress. TJ’s dad, his new stepmum and my super boyfriend joined us for the first ever school run. It was a slightly over the top show of solidarity to send TJ off with all of us literally right behind him. There was small talk and awkward photos but a happy boy which was, of course, the name of the game.

Then, off he went. He barely even looked back as he ran in ready to face the adventure of starting school which lay ahead of him.

Tantrums and tears

It hasn’t always been that way though, already. Those keepsake photos do somewhat mask the not-so-fun side of reality.

There’s been some tearful goodbyes at the school gate. There have been sad times for both of us as we rush to say goodbye. I expected this on the first day of starting school but no one tells you that this can continue way into the following weeks … but hopefully not months …

When it comes to co-parenting families, there’s the added complexity of how you’re not all back home at the end of the day. Those tricky goodbyes aren’t just for a few hours but potentially for a few days.

That can be a recipe for disaster when it’s alongside the tiredness, increased hunger, and the messy emotions which come with the starting school territory no matter the living or parenting situation.

The good and the bad

Whether the time apart for separated families is an advantage or disadvantage depends on perspective and probably your own tiredness levels on that particular day. It’s that constant battle between craving “me time” to sit and watch Netflix vs wanting to soak up every drop of your kid’s childhood while you still can. For me, it’s usually a bit of both depending on the school night. 

For literally years, I have been looking forward to the change in routine which TJ starting school would bring. It has meant the end of huge chunks of time when TJ would be with his dad and I would temporarily not feel like a parent. Instead, as TJ attends a school near my home, I now see him most days – even if it is to book end one side of the school day.

I thought it would be great and it is in many ways. Seeing him more often is obviously a huge advantage for me. It’s also heart-warming to see how he is navigating this new chapter in his life with his signature pizzazz. However, I didn’t expect the downsides which have come with all that too.

Goodbye, my friend

I never really thought about what it would be like to say goodbye for a couple of days at the school gate. If anything, I thought it would be more of a smooth transition. It’s not. TJ has spent a couple of mornings clinging to me when he realises it’s not mummy picking him up later that day. Oh, the guilt is real for all parents if that happens, no matter the circumstances.

TJ’s dad lives a good 45 minute drive away from my home and also TJ’s school. So, time with his dad was quite a way away from me and my non-parenting life. That physical distance gave me the mental space to get on with things a bit more. However, knowing TJ’s classroom is just a short walk away yet I am unable to see him for another couple of days brings a new and unexpected longing for my little man. But I’m sure I will adjust in time. I did three years ago when TJ’s dad and I began co-parenting and TJ and I spent days at a time apart.

Not alone

I have spent a lot of time since TJ’s dad and I split up thinking that I have been the only single parent in the village. I really struggled with this when I first moved away from London to suburbia. However, to my pleasant surprise, there’s lots of other single parents around here. In fact, there’s a great bunch of them in TJ’s class. That’s a positive influence for him as he will see that his different living situation isn’t that unusual. It’s also a massive pro for me as there’s like-minded people for me to swap stories with on the school run, in the park and at the pub.

One step in front of the other

So, as parents in any circumstance, what can we do? Take lots of deep breaths as the tiredness and emotions our kids are feeling manifest into non-fun stuff for us. Aim for consistency as much as possible (Covid permitting!) so that the new routine is established as quickly as possible. Give them a break – allow them to act up a little more than normal as it’s a tough time for our tiny people. Abuse the WhatsApp groups which may have been set up with fellow parents to vent the shit out of it all. Take comfort in how this is just ‘normal’ when starting school, apparently.

And enjoy it. There’s moments of gorgeousness blossoming amongst the moments of despair. That’s nothing new when it comes to parenting is it? We should be well-seasoned for it by now. There will probably be a whole bunch of ups and downs as our kids adjust to new friends, full days and long weeks. But, it’s fair enough. Change is good but change also takes time … and wine is there for us grown-ups to help cushion it all.