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Nicole Ari Parker may not be exactly like most moms — the majority of us aren’t starring in hit series such as HBO’s And Just Like That, for starters. But there is one struggle that moms the world over, including Parker, are universally familiar with: the struggle to keep the entire family organized and on track, especially as we shift from the carefree days of summer into the new, more structured routines that come along with going back to school.

When she isn’t acting, producing, or being an entrepreneur, Parker is mom to two kids with husband Boris Kodjoe: a daughter who’s entering her first year of college, and a son who’s going into his last year of high school. And now that her kids are a little bit older, back-to-school season looks different — starting with school supply shopping for the upper grades.

“It’s not a bunch of paper any more,” Parker muses. “[It’s] a laptop charger, a phone charger, a portable charger, backpacks with computer sleeves … things like that … it’s very techie-oriented.”

But one thing that never changes is the challenge of switching from a summer sleep schedule to one that’s more compatible with school hours. Parker makes it a point to start getting her kids “on a nice bedtime rhythm” well before school starts. “We’re all staying up too late watching movies, as a family winding down from summer,” she confesses, adding that she and her daughter both struggle with getting to bed at a decent hour. Her son, she says, is more adept at adjusting to the school-year sleep schedule thanks to his involvement in sports. “My son is better at it because he’s a young athlete, so he’s worn out at the end of the day,” she says. Even in the summer, “He eats dinner, showers, and goes to bed.”

Parker has partnered with Post-It Brand for the company’s “Think Loud” sweepstakes ahead of back-to-school (you can find details about the campaign here), revealing that it’s a partnership she chose because of its natural fit. The self-professed “avid Post-It user” says sticky notes are her personal key to keeping things organized — a tip she’s passing on to her kids. “I make everyone commit to using them, because it works for them all.”

But appointments, lists, and to-dos aren’t the only way she uses Post-Its; she helps her teens stay motivated throughout the school year with notes of encouragement. She sticks them in random places for her kids to find, hoping to cut through the everyday noise with important reminders. “On the phone case, on the pillow, in the bathroom,” she says. “[The kids are] on the phone, they’re on social media, they’re getting a lot of information … and I still want to be present in their consciousness that they’re loved, and they’re safe, and they’re doing a good job, and they’re valued.”

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Of course, her random notes garner a typical teenage response. “When they find it, they’re like, ‘Oh, Mom,” she laughs. “But it makes a difference. It seems like a tiny little speck in this big giant world out there. But it’s a speck that matters.”

Parker reveals that the biggest hurdle she faces during back-to-school season is one most parents can relate to: trying to accommodate everyone’s hectic schedules, which can often seem like you need to be everywhere all at once. “[It’s] just physically trying to get to all the places, you know. My son’s practice is in one place. My daughter had a math tutor for a while and [we’re] trying to honor that schedule. … Time management is key.”

But no matter how busy she gets, Parker is a surprising proponent of one school-year constant: homework. While many parents (and, undoubtedly, students) would happily do away with the nightly commitment, Parker credits it with keeping her kids “brain strong”.

“Everyone wants the homework fight. There are some schools that are like, okay, there’s no homework,” she says. “[But] I’m so happy my kids had to read Grapes of Wrath or Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. They’re really thinking young people now — I could have actual debates and conversations with my kids because they did their homework.”

Like every parent of teens ever, Parker admits that these years are hard. When they’re tweens, she says, “They’re still your bug, your little baby,” but once they reach the teenage years, “you have to get into not-cool-mom mode … you have to be ready for what they’re exposed to.”

“You know, I can’t just preach to them anymore. I have to listen,” she says. “And I have to find out what’s going on at the parties and not overreact. I think that I’m doing a pretty good job. I mean … I go in the bathroom sometimes.”

Don’t we all?! Despite the occasional mom meltdown in the bathroom, though, Parker keeps it strong for her kids – and says that always communicating with them in a “grounded” way is a good way to avoid overreaction (on her part, or her teens’).

“I give it to them straight. I don’t have a baby voice on anymore. They know they can trust me. And they’re just enough scared of me to try to do the right thing when I’m not around.”

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