Friday, August 24, 2012

Back to School Time and Multiple Sclerosis

It's the time of year again when we send our kids off to school after a long summer break.  For most people, there is an element of relief to having at least part of the days be kid-free. For people with multiple sclerosis, many of whom experience heat intolerance and all of the heightened symptoms that come with it, summer can feel like a marathon. Add a couple of young children to the mix and the days can seem torturous, all while you are trying to make things "fun" and "normal" for your family. The beginning of school, for me at least, feels like the finish line of the summer marathon.

However, as nice as it may be to turn the little darlings over to trained professionals for the bulk of the day, back-to-school time comes with its own stressors. Suddenly, schedules get tighter, mornings can be more frantic, there are more things to remember, lunches to pack, homework to check – the list goes on.

Continued heat intolerance (it's not cool yet in most parts of the country), fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and all those other symptoms that impede getting things done combine to make some of the school demands seem overwhelming at times.

We all find a way to cope, but I have compiled a list of some of my tips to making the transition back to school as smooth as possible:

Have a strict schedule – then stick to it. I'm not kidding. Take a piece of paper out right now and write out what a typical weekday will look like. On days where there are afterschool activities, modify the schedule and write out this version. You will not believe how much this helps – if you do this religiously, it will help you and the rest of the family stay calm. Try it out for a couple of days, adapt it as necessary, then print it out and put it in a visible spot. All anyone has to do is look at it and know where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. For tiny kids, you can even make one with pictures (even though they can't tell the time, you can show them that bath comes after dinner and before reading a bedtime story).

Make things you do every day easy. I have been guilty of repeatedly doing things "the long way," even when there are simple solutions that will make things much easier. I am trying hard to change that this year. I had hooks for backpacks put in the hall closet. I made a designated spot for kids' eyeglasses, where they must be put if they are not being worn. I have come up with a couple of lunch combinations that I fall back on, rather than opening the refrigerator at dawn and wondering what I was going to pack. All of these are simple things, but think about every minute that you may have spent looking for library books or trying to find matching socks while the morning clock is ticking and everyone is getting frustrated and upset. Now multiply those minutes times 180 (average number of school days in a year) and you'll see why simplifying and organizing is key.

Have your kids help you find solutions. My girls are in first grade. They just started school and I am trying to figure out what works best for them in terms of getting homework done or getting ready in the morning. They have given me some excellent suggestions. I think they are more likely to follow through on their own ideas.

Don't have too many afterschool activities. This is pretty simple to say and harder to do. Still, in order to be good parents, we all have to have something of ourselves to give. This is difficult when afterschool hours are all spent frantically driving kids around, sitting in the heat, trying to keep track of uniforms, and condensing family time into smaller slots. I suggest allowing one or two activities per semester, timed so that multiple children don't have conflicts in their activities.

Plan your energy expenditure. As much as possible, plan your schedule to work with theirs. By this, I mean take a rest or at least have some quiet time before you see your kids. Many days, I have rushed around to get things done before school gets out, then it's time to go pick the girls up and I have nothing left to give, energy-wise. Now I try to do anything hectic in the morning and leave the afternoon for more mundane and less exhausting tasks, so that I am ready for switching gears after school.

Bottom line: Part of our job as parents is to make school a positive experience for our children. By providing a stable and calm home environment and showing kids how to organize their time, we can support them in their school endeavors and significantly cut down on our own stress.


  1. Correct me if I'm wrong but it sounds like you don't work. For many of us we don't have the luxury of resting in the afternoons and our time in the evening is cut much shorter in the evenings w/ our kids when we don't get off work until 6pm, home by 7pm. No offense, but I'd like to hear tips from a working mother also especially whose kids are in different grades/schools.

    1. I originally would have had the same reaction, but I have totally gotten passed the working mom-not working mom debate. The non working moms in my community help me soooooooooo much and without them, my job would be so much harder. They will always help me if I need it. I am also admittedly jealous, especially because of my MS and my numb feet. Being a teacher is very hard...and I wish I could stay at home with my son.

    2. With working all day, taking care of the kids and overcoming personal obstacles, you sound like a strong person Nikki. As a writer, Julie might not work the same kind of schedule as you. But, I think we can always learn great tips that are shared from personal experience. I hear what you're saying Nikki, but I appreciate Julie's blogs and support for MS.

    3. I agree with Josh!
      Honestly, not everyone has the luxury of staying at home with their children. Perhaps moms and dads need or want to work. That doesn't make either more knowing than the other of how to deal with kids and going back to school.
      Even if one is a working parent Nikki's tips can help. They are tips that can be converted to help working dads and moms.

  2. I can't imagine being a working mom with MS. I homeschool and I am a full time student at night getting my BS in Political Science. I found that I had to take a day and write down everything that I did minute by minute to work up a reasonable schedule that was not wearing me down. Everyone in our house shares the work load of chores. And I meal plan for the week and try and make it as easy as possible since I am not home for several meals during the week. I only go shopping on a specific day that I have set aside. We still do cub scouts, awana, sports, church and many other things. I have an 8 year old and a 15 year old still at home. My oldest son graduated this year and has moved out. It is very hard to find a balance but I think it is unique to each family.

  3. Thank you for this. I am a working mom of a boy going into 1st grade. I am a high school teacher in NY, so the end of summer means I go back to work. Since last October my MS has progressed and I am so uncertain about how I will juggle my job, his school, his soccer, his after school play dates and activities and of course, the endless birthday parties. I was wondering if you have any suggestions. I use the calendar in my phone and it is linked to my husband's phone, the computer, the iPad, and whatever other pieces of technology we have. I also have a regular calendar on the cork board. However, I would love it if you have any suggestions. Good luck to you as you embark on a new year of school.

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  5. I'm blessed to be a stay at home mom which I'm thankful for bc it is very hard. My husband has been overseas for most of our marriage, so I raise our kids myself with a lot of help from friends and family. I do wish I could work but because of not knowing if I'm going to have a good day or bad day(many more good now thanks to being on Tysabri for the last 4 years) I volunteer at the kids school when I'm having good days. I used your tips and have things written down and we will try it out starting tonight. I will say a routine will help the most, but sometimes it's just so hard. I know if things are written I am more apt to follow them. I love the advice of no more than 2 activities a season. I have learned that the less I stress about being mother of the year and just focus on doing what I can do to my best.. The better I feel.

  6. As a dad with MS who also is a teacher, my back-to-school routine is a little different. But, I can tell you this... every day is a struggle. But one that is worth it. I teach with a chip on my shoulder. "I can do anything a healthy teacher can do." Yet I know it's not really true. My after school time is spent resting and recuperating. Sadly, it takes time away from my family. But, I have little choice. Without my job, without insurance, and without giving to others through teaching... I probably wouldn't make it anyway. It is important when you teach with MS to be honest with everyone invloved. There are certainly going to be days when you are not at your best. But, until the day that I am no longer able to teach - I'm going to keep fighting.

  7. It's great tips and quite effective for everyone.
    Excellent post.