What Back to School Really Means for Moms

Think back to school means Back to Me for moms? Ask a mom what she thinks.
09/17/2012 02:16 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2012
boy fallen asleep on his book...
boy fallen asleep on his book...

As kids across the country went back to school over the past few weeks, the airwaves were bursting with commercials about school gear, new lunch items and fall fashion to make sure the kids (and parents) are ready. It's no surprise that the target audience of these ads are moms, since women make the decisions on more than 80% of household purchases and are traditionally the parent ensuring the kids are prepared.

Kudos to advertisers for acknowledging the influence of women, but their messaging is off-target.

The messaging this year, more so than others, hit a nerve. Ad after ad positioned back to school as a time of puppies, rainbows and unicorns for moms, because now "you can focus on you." One campaign was even titled Back to School, Back to Me, because this time of year gives mom the break she's been waiting months for.

Really? I don't know many moms (stay at home, work at home or working out of the home) who were quite ready to say goodbye to the lazy, carefree days of summer to head back to school and routines. The 9-to-3 schedule doesn't bring anything resembling a break for most moms, and especially working moms, who just add more balls to their juggling act during the school year.

With over 70% of moms in the workforce, myself included, I question how knowledgeable these advertisers are about their target audience. Instead of heading to the nail salon or lunch with the girlfriends, moms are now dealing with the challenges and frustrations that come along with the kids going back to school.

Kids can have hours worth of homework in one night if there's a project or big assignment and it's rare for kids to hit the library on the way home from school to finish it up. They bring it home and need uninterrupted time to study and work.

After-school activities
But there's after-school sports, clubs, events and lessons that fight for our time. When does the family eat? Is anyone enjoying a scratch-cooked dinner at the family table on a weeknight anymore? I'm not sure how families are dealing with homework, activities and dinner unless their kids are up until midnight.

Parental obligations at school
My calendar looks vastly different from September through May with PTA meetings, committee meetups, class parties and volunteer shifts at school. How do working parents stay involved in their child's schooling? I can't count the number of parties, field trips and class activities I've missed over the years. As much as I hate the term, mommy guilt is real and present.

Routines, schedules and organization
The return to school means waking kids up earlier from their leisure summer slumber and getting them dressed, fed and packed up so they can make the bus or carpool on time. It means making lunches, signing permission slips and handling the forests of paper that come home each week.

Colds, flu and lice
Yes, I said lice. We had a few days a while back where my kids had to come home and toss everything -- clothes, jackets and backpacks -- into the high-heat dryer to make sure they didn't bring home a classmate's buggy friends. That was fun! As was the first night we heard there were bugs and half the moms stripped beds and scrubbed bedrooms -- completely unwarranted, but who wants to take that chance?

When we get that call to come pick up a sick child or they wake up with a fever, the first emotion is, of course, concern about their health, but the very next thought is "who will take care of them today?" Many parents in the workplace don't have good options for their sick child, nor the luxury of generous sick benefits like time off to care for them. Once mom has used her time off to care for her child, there's nothing left when she needs it to nurse the cold she caught.

Every year Moms, and parents in general, take on the responsibility to get our healthy, well-fed, rested and prepared children to school on time every day. While some days this effort is certainly deserving of a gold medal or at least an honorable mention, the reality is that this is just as much as our job as our privilege.

We all want the best for our kids, and sure, we'd love to have a little help from understanding and empathetic employers that offer flexible work options, teachers that give our kids more than one or two nights for big projects and a personal assistant that assembles healthy lunches, scrubs our toilets and organizes art projects that come home. But that's not the reality for most parents.

Still think back to school means Back to Me for moms? Ask a mom what she thinks.