08/28/2012 01:12 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

Back to School Parent Survival Guide

The kids are supplied, the lunches are packed and the tears are dried. Parents are usually expecting the homework, clubs and sports, but there is one part of school that parents often overlook: "Can you please...?".

"Can you, please...?"

It took me three solid years of parenting school-age kids to prep myself for the realities of the "Can you please....?" requests that bombard this time of year.

• Can you be room mom, please?
• Can you please be craft mom?
• Can you help me with story time?
• The library?
• The office?
• PTA?

The first couple of times I heard these requests, I was surprised and honored. As an involved mom, I want to help. I want to support the classroom teachers that need and deserve help. I work from home, so it is manageable.

But soon I discovered that the "Can you please?" requests don't stop, and if I say yes to everything, well, my kids wouldn't even have clean clothes to wear.

Priorities 101

At the beginning of each year, I have to take time to reassess my priorities and my commitments. I have to know that I am taking care of what needs to be taken care of before I take on more stuff. If I don't have time to do what's already on my plate, spooning on more is not going to help.

I start with a schedule. I know how much time I need for my career and I schedule it. I then schedule my big commitments. I schedule time for homework, extracurricular activities and household maintenance. I then look at my time to see what else I could feasibly do. For me, that meant saying yes to the local branch of the International Dyslexia Association and no to the recycling ventures at my daughter's school. While I have no problem with the recycling program, weighing my time, priorities and ability to commit helped me make a decision that helped an important organization, benefited my daughter's education and still fit into what is doable for my schedule. This is just one example, but there are many others.

Permission to say no

With three kids, my remaining time has to be split three ways, so time management is essential to my survival and sanity. Armed with this information, I have an adequate response to "Can you, please...?"

"Mrs. Teacher, I would absolutely love to help you with that. I have X hours a week I can commit to helping you. Is this the activity you would prefer that I spend that time on? I am open to anything."

Keep your priorities straight

Of course there are some things that are not classroom associated. There will always be a parent organization, an office worker or an extracurricular activity that will need you. Time doesn't grow on trees, so always remember how much time you actually have available before committing.

Drop the guilt

Let me be clear in saying that I believe it to be absolutely essential for parents to be involved in their kids' education. The school needs (and deserves) your support. However, that need must always be balanced with your time.

When we overcommit, that just leads to more stress all around. It is stressful to you because you don't know how to juggle it. It is stressful to the teacher or organization because they aren't sure you are going to follow through. And all that stress rubs off on your kids and family.

There's a lot of truth to that old saying, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."

Lead by example

We spend years teaching our kids the power of saying no to peers. We want them to turn down sex, drugs, alcohol and other things that can hurt them. But realistically, we never model saying no ourselves. We feel guilty and we sign up for everything. Leading by action rather than direction usually brings much better influence.

Let you kids hear you say no, or be available to explain why you turned down an opportunity if appropriate. Life lessons like prioritizing and saying no aren't taught in school. They are taught by example.