Why Is It So Hard To Go Back To School After The Holidays?

There’s so much hype around how to survive the back-to-school season. It starts in about July and reaches full steam in August/September when you can’t be on the internet without getting blasted with ads for back-to-school sales from everything to pencils to dorm room décor.

But what about the second back to school?

I’m speaking, of course, of the start of the second half of the school year following the break for the winter holidays. Most kids in the U.S. go on break from the third week of December until after the New Year. It’s a fresh start, but it’s missing the excitement of the beginning of the school year in the fall. The kids might be happy to see their friends but second back-to-school just isn’t as fun. Those celebratory, shiny new school year vibes stayed back in August, and instead, we’ve got unwelcome alarms ejecting us from our beds on cold, dark winter mornings.

The break for the winter holidays is the halfway point in the school year. My kids’ Christmas break is almost three weeks long. By the time early January rolls around, I’m very ready for my kids to get back into a routine and leave my house, which is the opposite of how I feel when they go back to school in the fall. Personally, I enjoy our summer routine, a long stretch full of time spent outdoors and fun activities.

Winter break, on the other hand, is short and filled with holiday stuff and obligatory family visits and so on. The days are shorter and we spent much more time inside. Translation: more time where anything productive I try to do is accompanied by the soundtrack of bickering about what happens in Fortnite, because what happens in Fortnite never stays in Fortnite or the screams of whatever YouTuber they’re watching play video games. Why do those guys always scream? I don’t know.

For me, winter break feels very temporary — once the holiday hullabaloo is over, we’re all just in this weird, cheese-eating limbo where we disregard rules for regular bedtimes and mealtimes. I don’t hate this part. I like that pocket of time where we can just…be. The question of what’s for dinner might be answered with “IDK. There might be leftover pie or whatever. “Why don’t you make popcorn?” I’ll draw the line at funky smells, but I abandon my usual “Did you take your shower yet?” vibe temporarily with “I don’t care if you’ve had those same pajamas on for 72 hours” mom. It feels good to unclench a little bit.

But when the first day back to school rolls around in January, everyone is sluggish and tired. Although the kids probably feel some excitement over seeing their friends again, there’s not that same nervous, happy rush of energy that’s present in August.

So how do we make second back to school suck less?

Well, in our house, we start by acknowledging the suck. I’m okay with letting my kids complain a little over something they don’t like. I might even join in. No whine-fests, but it’s ok to say out loud when things aren’t hunky-dory.

We’ve done things like make a first day of school photo booth with selfie station props we’ve had laying around the house. I’m pretty sure they’re too cool for this now at 13, but when they were 9 my kids got really into that mustache on a stick I brought home from some party. I have a letterboard I bought in 2018 (remember when everyone was buying letterboards?) that I might deck out with catchy sayings like “122 days of eighth grade left” or “June 2023 or bust.” There’s a good chance my kids might see that one as dorky but I figure there’s minimal investment on my part, so why not?

The photos are hit or miss, but one thing is a surefire winner: a really junky breakfast. Frosted donuts with sprinkles washed down with a Capri Sun is my kids’ love language. I’m not a “No sugar will pass through my kids’” lips kind of mom but I do generally believe that the first meal of the day needs to be a balance between protein and carbs. Donuts are special and reserved for things like birthdays, so having their favorite sugary breakfast the first day back after winter break makes them happy.

This year, I plan to let them have a do-nothing Saturday after their first week back at school to celebrate making it through a week. I won’t make them get dressed and ease up on the bigger chores. I don’t plan to let the cat starve or accept overflowing trash cans but giving them that mom-sanctioned day of downtime after the first week back to the routine is our way of easing them in. Your kids might like something different as a reward of sorts. It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.

Of course, everyone reacts to change differently. Some kids will be just fine going back to school. That’s just not the case in my house. So here’s to a glorious cheese-filled break, and a smooth start to a new year.

Jill has a 30-year-old daughter and two 12-year-old sons. Despite being a parent for over three decades, she’s come to terms with the fact that she’s never going to be that mom who has it all together. Jill’s writing has appeared in SheKnows, HuffPost, Tripsaavy, Insider, The Girlfriend, and other publications. She encourages parents to find adventure with their kids, whether that’s across the ocean or across the street. Jill lives in San Antonio with her husband and two youngest kids, although she’s usually somewhere else.

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