Navigating the Motherhood Maze: Last child at school

When I looked out of my window this morning, I was met, for the first time this year, with what I know as that ‘September feeling’. There was a bit of mist, a visible dew on the grass, and the air felt cooler and a bit fresher than some of the other summer mornings I have woken up to recently.

This time of year brings a real nostalgia for me, remembering when my children were little and they returned to school after the long summer break.  Shiny new shoes and book bags. Excitement about seeing friends again, as well as some nervous faces thinking about what the new school year would bring. We would spot the spider webs glistening with dew on the way to school and although coats were still being rejected, arms were invariably covered with a cardi or jumper. 

I would often find myself filled with mixed feelings on these early September days. On the one hand, I was tinged with a bit of regret, that the days of spending unmeasured time with the children had come to an end.  But at the same time, I would feel relief that we could go back to a routine that would keep us on an even keel for the next couple of months.

I have often heard people say that when their youngest last child started school, it felt like the end of an era. In her latest blog, our wonderful Poet-in-Residence, Jude, reflects on that time herself. Jude considers what will be different, how she might fill some of that new, quieter time and plans a selection of suitable responses to the endless questions from well-meaning people asking, “what are you going to do with all your time??” Enjoy!

Sarah, Scheme Manager

Last child at school

In the weeks after my youngest child started school, I remember getting more and more wound up by people endlessly asking me, wide-eyed and laughing, “what are you going to do with all your time??”

I’ve experimented with a number of responses…

  • I’m going to do exactly what I did before, with make up on and my hair brushed;
  • I’m going to sit in the garden drinking coffee all day… or maybe gin…
  • I’ve no idea, I still don’t have time to think about it…
  • I’m going to sleep for three hours a day to try and catch up the last decade’s missed opportunities…

And when I’m really desperate,

  • “I’m going to book my overdue smear test”

(that usually shuts them up).

All the people asking this question are doing so well-meaningly and with genuine interest. And yes, this moment in a woman’s (or sometimes man’s) life, when the last child goes to school, is reportedly very significant. So much so, in fact, that one friend of mine recently warned me to “take care of my marriage” this September! 

My mind boggled!! The implication was that I would suddenly feel so drastically free and so dramatically different, would so suddenly and surprisingly re-find myself, that I would somehow be susceptible to fancies, flings and affairs, all of which could instantly destroy the family life I’ve spent the last ten years building up.

What a thought!

I don’t have any more time than I had before. That’s clear. There are no more hours in the day. I don’t have any less work to do either – I still do hoovering, tidying, laundry, and diary management for six people – it’s just that I can now do it without a child hanging around me or needing me, or – most time-consuming of all – trying to help me!

I also realise that although I describe myself as a “stay-at-home Mum” I actually have four part-time jobs; two paid, two voluntary, as well as being the main carer for four children. Probably one of the things I need to start doing is being realistic to myself and others about how much I already do in the time I have. Have I myself actually bought in to this assumption that caring, parenting, Mothering and home-making don’t really count – that they are a kind of invisible entry in the daily planner?

What I do have is more of my time to myself. And what I’ve actually decided is that it’s time not to add more things in, but in fact to simplify. To concentrate on what really matters, what really makes sense, what I really want to be doing. The things that benefit both me and the rest of my family – things that make sense in the context of the life we want to be living – it’s time to start doing those things and doing them well.

So here are some true responses to the original question:

  • I’m going to plan meals and do more of the preparation before 3.30 pm so I can be fully present for my children when they are back from school;
  • I’m going to take the time to teach the children how to help me with domestic chores in a way that’s actually helpful (and which encourages them not to assume that those chores are automatically done by Mummy!) ;
  • I’m going to try and use my bike more and the car less;
  • I’m going to see more of my parents;
  • I’m going to read a book from time to time – you know, one of those ones that’s actually written for adults;
  • I’m going to bake a cake sometimes, just on my own, just for fun;
  • I’m going to try not to eat all the cake myself;
  • I’m going to think about my parenting, be more deliberate about offering quality time to my children;
  • I’m going to be the sort of person you could drop in on and have a coffee with when you need to talk to someone – the sort of person who can afford to stop and be with you, listen to you, because they aren’t preoccupied about all the things they are supposed to be doing;
  • I’m going to get round to writing more blog entries for Homestart!


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