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When Parents Have the Back to School Blues – Should You Be Worried?

With other parents joking how glad they are school is back on and they have time to themselves -what if you just don’t feel the same?

Do you secretly feel you are experiencing ’empty nest syndrome’ even when you know your children are just at school? Are you suffering low moods, or anxiety?

Why am I feeling so low now the kids are back at school?

Below are several possible reasons for your mood swings now the kids are back at school, along with information on when it might be time to take your responses seriously and seek support.

1. You don’t like change.

Some of us are by nature perfectionists, or love consistency, and seem born to just hate change.

If this is you, throw yourself into getting organised, and learn tactics for dealing with change, including letting yourself have a good cry that the kids are growing up and another summer is over. After a week or two you should be back to normal.

When to worry – If you are feeling extremely anxious in a way that affects other parts of your life like work and sleep, if your anxiety goes on for more than a few weeks, and if this extreme anxiety happens every time a change comes in life, it might be time to investigate if you have a deep-rooted fear of change. This is often related to a traumatic change as a child, or not growing up with any real security.

2. You don’t like being alone.

Extroverts are just happiest surrounded by noise and human warmth.

Focus on getting your own social schedule and hobbies back on track and the next few weekends with the kids organised, and soon you’ll have forgotten how lost you felt when school started.

When to worry If you tend to avoid being alone at all costs, or even feel panicky if there is nobody around you, it could be a sign of unresolved issues from the past that you are avoiding. Pain and sadness, so easy to keep at bay with distractions, are harder to deny when we are left to face ourselves. And yet facing them is the only way to know ourselves deeply.

3. You personally always hated going back to school.

Do you have childhood memories of amazing, endless summers always ruined by the boredom of school? Or did you dread September as it meant being sent back to boarding school? If so, you might just be experiencing a mood your body is trained to connect to all things schoolstress and tension.

Or, you could be projecting your own feelings about school being awful onto your children, possibly creating false worry they aren’t happy when they themselves are just fine to head back to routine and learning.

When to worry – If you experienced trauma as a child such as bullying, inappropriate attention from a teacher, or deep feelings of abandonment at being shipped off to boarding school, and now often experience anxiety as an adult, it might be connected. Such experiences can have a long-term affect unless we take the time to acknowledge and process the affect they have had on our sense of self worth.

4. It’s the entire scene at the school gates you hate.

Is there any chance that you think you are anxious as the kids aren’t around, but really it’s the stress of the social scene that school brings for parents?

There is nothing wrong with not being the chatty, ‘get involved’ sort. Look for ways to manage that mean less pressure for you. Can you have an honest chat with your partner about splitting the school gate visits? Join forces with a neighbouring mother where you take turns taking all the kids in?

When to worryIf the reason the school gates cause so much stress is because you worry excessively what others think of you, this is different than being an introvert. It’s a sign of low self-esteem that needs to be dealt with. Low self-esteem is a leading contributor to depression.

5. You rely on your kids to keep you feeling good.

Parents get a lot of joy from their kids. And that’s normal.

When to worry – If you honestly take most of your identity from being a parent, if you were depressed before having kids but feel you life has meaning only now you have them, and/or if you have a very limited social life beyond your children, there might be an issue with codependency. Codependency can lead to difficult relationships, low self-esteem, and even an identity crisis. It can also leave your child with relationship issues in the future.


It’s absolutely normal to miss your kids, to feel overwhelmed by change, and to not always be in the mood for the school gates. And it’s also absolutely normal to sometimes depend on your kids too much – parenting is tricky and nobody is perfect.

But if you do feel your low moods now the kids are back at school could be a sign of something deeper needing your attention, do consider seeking support.

Counselling and psychotherapy are not at all only for when we are in pieces. Instead, they are both great tools to make sure that doesn’t happen in the first place, and to help us all navigate family life and parenting with greater ease and confidence.

Harley Therapy provides both individual therapy, family therapy, and couples counselling at three locations in London, as well as online therapy worldwide.

Do you have a question we didn’t answer? Or an experience of back to school blues you’d like to share? Comment below.


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    Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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