Another golden summer is almost at an end. How do I know? I walked into the grocery store and instead of an overwhelming array of pool floats, beach towels, and tropical-themed kitchen accouterment, I am overwhelmed instead by rows and rows of back-to-school products. While the return of a schedule set and kept by an outside source is most welcomed, I am once again faced with the yearly dread.
Insomuch as, like most parents, I am delighted by the fact that once again I will have five minutes alone to do what I want while the children are busy learning. However, unlike most parents, adoptive parents are likely to be facing a few overwhelming tasks. Number one for me is privately introducing myself to my kids’ teachers. While meet the teacher night is all well and good, I need to lay the groundwork for my younger three without an audience. My kids’ tragic backstory is theirs to share as they wish or don’t. But because some of their histories can cause major behavioral issues, I do have to inform teachers of the bare minimum for everyone’s sake.
So, in addition to spending eleventy-billion dollars on supplies and new clothes so my kids have clothes that fit (how did they grow so much over three months and why do my babies wear big kid clothes now?!), I have some homework to do. Over the past seven years, I’ve managed to somewhat streamline the process.
Email the new teacher and explain who you are. Thank them for the job they do and tell them how much everyone is looking forward to a new year. (I don’t have to dig deep to find a wellspring of gratitude that for six hours a day, I don’t need to provide snacks and entertainment for the school year.) Introduce yourself and your child. If you’re lucky like we are this year, all of my kids’ teachers have had a sibling the year before. Our school is small and my little three are all in the same hallway. Their teachers have already gotten to see siblings throughout the year. The teachers all communicate so they all have a basic idea of all the kids. This makes my job easier.
In that email, request a private meeting to discuss your child. You can decide how little or much to share. For us, it has depended entirely on the child. Our oldest two were severely neglected for a long time. The neglect made them appear much younger than they actually were. It also made them badly uneducated. When we first enrolled them in school, we were their foster parents. We had a parent/teacher/principal meeting at least once a month for a few months. I let them know as much about the situation as I knew so we were all on the same page. I didn’t want the kids to be treated differently, but it was impossible to move forward without getting everyone on the same page. Their stories are their own, but it was important for everyone to understand my husband and I weren’t the mom and dad the boys would talk about. I had to establish we were all on the same team and I was willing and able to do whatever they needed me to do at home to be sure my kids got the education they needed.
Make a list of talking points to take with you to the meeting. It helps me to stay on track to have a few notes written down. I sometimes get lost wandering down bunny trails if I’m not careful. It is helpful to have a bulleted list of important behavioral/emotional issues you might be concerned about.
The teacher may or may not be sympathetic to the situation. I have had teachers brush me off when I explain my kids’ behaviors. It wasn’t until they witnessed some of the unwanted behaviors halfway through the school year (the amount of time it took for my kid to feel safe and normal with the new adult) that they would take my warnings seriously. The only thing you can do is try. The emails you send serve as a document trail in case someone feels you never said anything before or the teacher had no idea those things could be an issue.
While you’re getting the teacher meetings sorted, you also need to be getting your child ready for a big transition. We have a calendar with the first day of school marked. The kids can x out the days until school starts. It gives them a tangible way to anticipate change. Because trauma can make trust difficult, it’s important to not suddenly spring transitions onto my kids. They need to be able to anticipate change. Too early and they’re anxious. Too late and they’re angry and feel betrayed. It’s a delicate balance.
I have found the key to a peaceful back-to-school shopping experience is having most of what we ordered online. The store is too overwhelming. I made the mistake the first year we had our kids of taking them into the store with me. We were all overstimulated by the noise, crowds, and a number of specific things we needed (red plastic folders with brads and pockets, I’m looking at you. Or rather, I’m not, because you’re impossible to find.) For clothes, I try to take them one at a time. I have the school dress code saved on my phone. This is crucial for my independent, fashion-forward children. It is nice to have the backup of an entire school policy to say no to impractical, outrageous, and ill-fitting clothes sometimes.
Back to school can bring a lot of nervous, anxious feelings for everyone. It’s important to remember that unwanted behaviors will probably occur, even with the best of preparation. I remind myself that as worried about my kids as I am, they are the ones doing the hard task of going back to a schedule, being surrounded by distractions, and navigating interactions with other children. It makes it easier to overlook the not-so-nice things they are likely to say to me.