Last year, when my oldest started Kindergarten, I learned I had a sort of spilt-personality. It turns out there’s a school year version of myself and a non-school year version. And since parenting and school was a new thing for me, let’s say, the school year version of me wasn’t the best version of myself.

At the time, I was just trying to keep this school ship running and didn’t realize how unpleasant I was. I was getting lunches made, getting people out of bed, getting backpacks ready to go, and getting class snacks sent in—which, incidentally, I did not manage to stay on top of and completely forgot to send snacks on the first morning of my assigned week.

Basically, when it came time for school to start, with very little expectation or understanding, I turned into someone I’m pretty sure the people around me didn’t like that much—someone I didn’t even like all that much.

And then this summer came, and it was bliss. We could sleep in longer, go on vacation, watch movies past bedtime, head to the pool so many nights after dinner that we started to sweat chlorine, get ice cream for no reason, become regulars at the library devouring the books we filled our tote bag with. In other words, we could breathe a little easier because our structure was looser and so were the demands on our time.

And now, here we are, on the brink of school starting again. And I’m not crazy about it. I hate waking up early, making lunches and having to act like I’m in a good mood when I wake up my kids. I hate having to get on them about homework and early bedtimes. I hate the life maintenance that seems to over take our lives back in the routine. But since it’s inevitable, I’m trying to use these next couple of weeks to try and figure out what I can do to make re-entry into the real world better.

Last year, I learned the hard way that this season of school doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. So this year, it’s up to me to go into it with eyes wide open and determine how to make my school year self not be such a stressed-out jerk to everyone who encounters me. Maybe you too could use the tips I’m compiling for myself.

1. Figure out your most stressed out time of the day, and simplify

Maybe that’s the mornings—so, make lunches, pack snacks, and assemble homework the night before. Maybe it’s bedtime—so get the “have to’s” done earlier. Homework, as soon as they get home. Reading, before dinner.

2. Find a way to connect

At the start of the year, it’s draining on kids to get accustomed to a new teacher, a new routine, who to sit with at lunch, and who to ride the bus home with. They need some normalcy and a sense that life has some consistency. So make an effort to create some intentional time to connect with your kids—one-on-one.

Be curious and ask questions like: “What’s the best part of the new school year so far? What’s been the most frustrating thing? Is there something you wish were different? What would make tomorrow even better than today?”

Be especially intentional to spend unique time with each child. This is the space to make sure the message of, “I love you, I’m paying attention to you, and I want the best start of the year as possible for you” is being communicated.

3. Plan your breaks

In those early weeks of school, the stretch of the school year ahead feels endless. But strategically placed throughout the school calendar are the little reprieves. These few days off here and there are like our Promised Land. Treat those days with intention. You don’t have to go skiing over Winter Break or take a Disney Cruise over Spring Break to make a break count. Make plans to simply enjoy your kids on those days of less structure.  

4. Go heavy on grace

Change is hard for everyone. For both parents and kids. But we can choose to show a lot of compassion to our kids and ourselves as we work at creating a new normal. No one is doing it perfectly. No one’s morning is seamless. No one is void of emotion or anxiety heading into the start of a new year. So go easy on yourself and the people around you.

Last year, as the school year started for us for the first time, I became profoundly aware of time. Of how fast it all goes. And for that, I was grateful. For as hard as the start of school can be, for as much change it may require of us, for as much as it keeps us on our toes, it is a built-in reminder that our time with our kids is limited. So make it count. Even amid the homework, and school lunches and early rising. Make it count.