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How do working parents deal with back-to-school stress?
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With Labor Day behind us, summer is officially over. And that means, nationwide, most children should be back to school.

If your home is like ours, that also means back to stress.

Preparing for the start of a new school year is always challenging, and I don't even handle the heavy lifting for that in the Kratz household. It's my wife who makes sure our four children have new clothes, notebooks, pencils and everything else they need to start the year.

Once school begins, we usually fall into a routine fairly quickly. But unexpected activities or complications always arise, and when you combine that with the normal busyness of a six-person family, it sometimes feels like we get on a treadmill in mid-August and don't get off again until the following June.

Looking around at other parents, I see the same stresses and exhaustion on their faces as they try to adjust to the start of a new year. And for working parents, back-to-school can be even harder.

That reality is supported by the findings of a recent survey from, an online destination for finding and managing family care that has millions of members in 16 countries.

According to's July survey of 575 Americans, 55 percent of respondents said the back-to-school season is stressful. I wish I could find the sense of zen that the other 45 percent apparently experience!

The top five stressors respondents identified in the survey were back-to-school shopping, at 37 percent; simultaneously juggling work, also 37 percent; getting kids ready for school in the morning, 34 percent; finding after-school child care, 31 percent; and dealing with plans falling through, 22 percent.

My wife and I can relate to almost all of those, with the exception of the after-school child care. While our two oldest daughters are now in high school and do an excellent job of getting themselves up and moving each morning, our two younger kids usually need a little push to get them started.

In fact, if you were to visit our house around 7 a.m. on a weekday, you'd likely hear either my wife or me muttering something like, "Seriously, how hard is it to get yourself dressed? And would it kill you to get your own breakfast instead of just sitting on the couch staring into space? Grrrr."

Like all parents, though, we have our ways of trying to manage the back-to-school process and reduce the stress.

In the survey, 70 percent of respondents said they tried to help their children get everything ready the night before, which is something we also do. Beyond that, 57 percent said they reduced stress by teaching their kids to help out, while 42 percent said they split responsibilities with their partner.

Our two older girls are especially helpful in this regard. For example, on one recent night, they took turns patiently assisting our youngest daughter with her math homework. Their willingness to help allows me and my wife to work with our son and complete other chores.

That's not to say every school day is smooth sailing at our house. Even when we try to be organized and help each other, things sometimes go wrong. Again, according to the survey, we're not alone.

"At least once a month or more, one in five parents (20 percent) say child care plans fall through, 23 percent of parents say their child goes to school late or is picked up from school late, and approximately one in three parents (36 percent) say their childs homework needs more attention than they thought," said a statement on survey highlights. "In addition, 35 percent of parents say theres no time to make a family dinner once a week or more."

I'm a huge believer in the positive impact of family dinner, but it is complicated during the school year. Extracurricular activities tend to pull us in different directions, which makes it hard to get everyone around the table, much less find the time to cook.

When we do manage to have a real family meal, it's usually because my wife has pulled off a logistical and culinary miracle. If both of us were working outside the home, I'm sure that would be much more difficult.

In the survey, 51 percent of working parents said the back-to-school season interfered with their employment, and 43 percent said they had to go to work late or leave work early as a result. Furthermore, 44 percent of working parents said they often felt distracted at work during the start of a new school year.

I definitely relate to that. While at the office, I sometimes find myself wondering about my family's activities. How did my son do on his math test? Did the audition for the high school musical go well? Did my youngest daughter catch her bus? Such concerns can make it hard to focus on work at times.

Fortunately, most of my employers have allowed me the flexibility to attend occasionally to family matters, despite the resulting disruption to my workday. The survey shows not everyone is so lucky.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they didn't think their employer supported their responsibilities as a parent, like attending doctor visits or school functions.

"In addition, 44 percent of working parents say they worry their boss and colleagues will think theyre not committed to their job when their work schedule is affected due to a parental responsibility," the statement on survey highlights said. "Ten percent simply dont worry about it even though their boss and colleagues arent sympathetic."

I find those results to be particularly disheartening. A little understanding from a manager when these back-to-school challenges arise will result in a bunch of goodwill from an employee.

As I've written dozens of times before, happier employees tend to be more loyal and productive. If employers allow some flexibility, everybody wins.

And during this busy season, we could all use a little victory.
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