Part of me is dreading the return of school and the surrender of my evenings once more

Jen Hogan: Homework and endless car trips to matches and training bring the lazy summer days to an end

It’s just two weeks until the children are back at school. Two more weeks of lazy mornings, free and easy evenings, and stress-filled juggling of work from the diningroom table while refereeing non-stop rows, making endless snacks and navigating the guilt that I am not fully available to my children.

Yes, in theory they should have been able to play out the front with their friends, all summer, engaging in hours of unstructured free play, and not seen again until tummy rumbles told them it must be nearly dinner time. But this is 2022, not an episode of the Waltons, and the reality is that most of the summer their friends have been in camps or with childminders.

Because, you know, that whole, pesky, needing to work thing.

So I should be breathing a sigh of relief that the return is imminent. And I am looking forward to mornings where I can work and even hear myself think again, but part of me is dreading the surrender of my evenings and weekend mornings once more.


My heart sank when a fellow school mum told me I was wrong about my presumption the children were returning on a Thursday rather than Tuesday. “Oh no,” I wailed. “That means we’ll have homework from the off.”

It is the bane of my life. The most pointless of chores — and yes it is an absolute chore. A needless, draining endurance test, which serves no purpose except to instil an unhealthy work, rest and play balance in our children, infringe on precious and limited family time, and generally get in the way of life and the other things which matter. Including the activities they love to do.

But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading the return of their activities a little too. It’s not even that the kids are doing loads each, more that there’s loads of kids. Just one team sport for one child alone means two evenings’ training and a match — mum taxi will be back on the road and meeting herself coming back, most likely.

Still, as I bemoan (just a tiny bit) the loss of my ability to chill any evening, I appreciate the value of these activities. They’re far more important than homework. These are the places children can find their tribe. The places they can improve their coordination skills and general health and fitness. They’re the places where children have fun, learn new skills and find their worth outside of the classroom. These are the places where children don’t have to fit a box. And where social skills can flourish and friendships can be made. These are the places where children do the things they love.

And they are especially important in post restriction times. We saw the consequences of childhoods paused as schools closed, meet-ups ceased and activities were suspended. We were reminded how important fun and joy was in our children’s lives, even if the powers that be seemed, at times, to forget.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, with parents facing the perennial financial back-to-school pressures, having to make tough decisions. And when it comes to difficult choices, with bills to pay and worries about what the winter might bring, the activities our children hold dear are the first to be reconsidered.

The cost of books, iPads, stationery, administrative charges and extras, locker rentals, voluntary contributions and footwear soon adds up. And uniforms, oh let’s not forget about them. In spite of a Department of Education circular issued in 2017 “to be adopted by schools to reduce the costs of uniforms and other costs”. A circular which said “that all elements of a school uniform should be purchasable from various stores”, and “only ‘iron on’ or ‘sew on’ crests should be used”, many schools continue with their crested uniform policy. Alongside the significant other costs, it contributes to parents having to decide what’s essential and what’s not.

Swimming lessons, a vital life skill, had to go, one mother explained to me. It was an additional cost she couldn’t afford. Others agreed, admitting it was a particularly difficult activity to have to sacrifice. For another parent it was martial arts and tennis that took the hit. Worries about already high back-to-school costs and increasing activity costs meant drama, dancing lessons, football and other sports would fall by the wayside as parents tried to prioritise expenses.

And in their place, often, was guilt, parents explained. Because they knew how important these activities are to every aspect of their children’s development.

But there was no choice, because something had to give. And until education is really free, then it has to be the fun stuff.