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Paul Metz, Executive Vice President

By the week after Labor Day, this year’s back-to-school period will be all but over and families across America will be settling back into their school-year routines.  The transition back to a school-year schedule happened almost two weeks ago in my family, as we coped with the anxiety of a daughter entering middle school and the excitement of her younger sibling returning to the known stomping grounds of grade school.  While it is a familiar annual event, the back-to-school transition brings a lot of change and emotion.  In fact, in August we talked online with hundreds of moms and observed that while moms’ feelings about the start of the school year may vary from sadness to elation, every mom seems to have a strong and heartfelt opinion on the topic.

We were expecting a majority of moms to relate stories of “mixed” feelings about the end of summer and their children’s return to school.  We did hear plenty of mixed reactions, but we were fascinated that a full half of moms expressed nothing but positive feelings about their children’s return to school.  This sentiment didn’t feel foreign to me, as my wife expressed quite a bit of relief when the school-year began, because it brought a stable routine and relieved my wife of the weekly summer challenge of figuring out how to keep the kids busy and entertained.  What we heard from moms around the country, through our online parent community, ParentSpeak, were various expressions of happiness, excitement and relief.  The onset of school can solve many “challenges”, including irregular summer schedules, lack of time to get work done, and kids’ boredom.  It seems as if many moms welcome the forced discipline of a school-year routine, even though they also acknowledged that they enjoyed laid-back unscheduled summer days.  This mom articulated the feelings of many moms: 

“I’m definitely glad to get back to school.  Being in a routine is so much easier.  I am glad for my kids to have that unstructured play time in the summer; don’t get me wrong.  But I love routine and order.” 

Another mom echoed these sentiments with,

“School gives them a routine and set schedule to follow and it makes for a more harmonious life in our home.” 

Clearly, many moms view school as a positive co-partner in helping them manage the busy lives of their families.

Moms’ outlook about the back-to-school period seems to depend heavily on how they perceive their evolving role as a parent as their children grow.  Some moms are excited that their children are moving to the next grade, getting the opportunity to learn new things and socialize with their friends.  Other moms, however, lament the new school year because it reminds them of how fast their children are growing up and they feel a certain sense of “loss”, and know that the happy, fun days of parenting a young child are not easily recaptured.  These moms tend to feel that summer is too short and that they aren’t quite ready for the school year to start, which leaves them feeling sad and anxious.  Our just-completed research suggests that approximately one in five moms feel this way. 

In between the extremes are a number of moms who exhibit truly mixed feelings.  Many moms have a balanced perspective of both the positives and negatives of summer and of the school year.  It’s not atypical for moms to welcome the regular schedule of the school-year while dreading the early mornings and long nights of helping with homework.  The same mom can feel happiness for her child’s advancement, and sadness about having less time to enjoy with her children. 

This mom captured her competing feelings quite well:

“I am sad that my son will soon be heading off to 2nd grade; I love spending all the time with him in the summer.  But I am also excited because I love watching him grow and become the wonderful little guy he is.  I love hearing his stories about his day.  It’s such a mixed feeling,  but I am glad he is getting a good education  and know I have to slowly let him grow up.”

These are the types of tensions and inner conflicts that companies with child and mom-targeted products and services should try to understand.  There is opportunity for companies who understand moms’ feelings and emotions during the back-to-school time, because they can reflect these in their advertising messages and strike a chord of relevance and authenticity with moms.  For their part, retailers seem to be succeeding at connecting with moms, as we tallied over 60% of moms saying that they enjoyed back-to-school shopping.  And this was something that both moms and kids could agree on, and serves as a positive exclamation point to the end of the summer.