The edge of autumn is in the air and kids are heading back to school. As a father of two school-aged children, I have found the new school year brings with it a part-time job’s worth of coordinating and decision making. From school supply lists, bus schedules and routine planning to trouble shooting morning melt-downs, last-minute summer homework assignments and vague parenting guilt (Did I encourage the kids to read enough this summer?), the return to school can be overwhelming for parents with the best of intentions.
If you are a parent gearing up for a new academic year, here is a checklist of items that will help you survive and thrive emotionally as your family transitions back into school mode:
- A cup of coffee.
- An organization plan. A tsunami of forms, emails, fundraiser brochures, usernames, passwords and deadlines is rushing toward your kitchen countertop, and a system to track and organize it all is your lifeboat. Ignore the voice in your head that says setting up routines and structure is more work than flying by the seat of your pants.
- A Camera. Capture your kids in their bright new shoes, fresh haircuts and nervous smiles. This year’s “They are getting so big!” photo will be next year’s “Look how young they were!” photo.
- Grace for yourself when you do it wrong. Given the amount of information schools expect you to juggle, it is likely you will drop a ball or five. Maybe it will be a deadline for an important form. Or a (peanut-free) snack. Or a hat for your child on Silly Hat Day. Remember: Formless/snackless/silly hatless life goes on. You are doing the best you can. Learn from your mistakes and choose to feel proud of the five hundred things you get right every day.
- Smelling salts, in case you faint when you realize how much the world has changed since you were in school. The internet didn’t exist when you were a kid. Now you are getting weekly emails from your child’s nine teachers and have so many usernames and passwords to keep track of that you don’t know if you’re going to laugh or cry. (Laugh…as you move emails into folders).
- Forgiveness for other parents who are more permissive than you. “But Caitlyn’s parents let her do ______.” Are Caitlyn’s parents trying to make your life more difficult? Probably not. They are doing the best they can, just like you. Every parent has blind spots and makes judgment calls that other parents wouldn’t make. And chances are Caitlyn’s parents rolled their eyes because you let your child watch ______.
- A second cup of coffee.
- The sentence “Tell me more.” Commit to listen to your kids with your full attention (and not the multitasking-Facebook-checking-because-I-just-need-a-minute-to-myself kind of listening). Parenting school-aged children is an unpaid project management position. It’s easy for conversations to focus on tasks to be done and miss connecting with your child’s heart. So ditch the lecture and look them in the eye, listen and empathize as often as you can.
- Your intuition. You have highly sophisticated instincts developed to keep you and your children safe. If your gut says something is off, listen to it. If you’re wrong, you can apologize later. You know your child better than anyone else, so trust your gut.
- The big picture. Remember: the goal of parenting is to help grow your children into high functioning adults with whom you have a great relationship. Allow these goals to inform your day to day school decisions.
- Respect for your child’s unique spirit and path. Kids are not an extension of their parents. You are not responsible for every choice they make. Let them make mistakes. We want to protect our children from the pain and perils of life, but this prevents them from learning lessons they will need later in their lives.
- A microwave, because your second cup of coffee got cold when you were trying to find the mechanical pencils you bought last week while reassuring your child you will fix the zipper on his backpack in a couple minutes.
- A “We’re on the same team” attitude towards your partner. This is easy to forget during the day to day stress of the school year. Extend benefit of the doubt that your partner wants what is best for your child, even if he or she occasionally forgets certain details.
- Your memories from school. Let them inform your wisdom and empathy for your child. Pull out your yearbook from when you were your child’s age and look at it together. Notice how young you were. And you found your way. So will your child.
- Openness to the small enlightenments along the way. Your child is changing and growing more and more with each passing year – and so are you. The most important things in life happen little by little. Allow this year to deepen your understanding of your child and yourself.
All the best to you as you tackle the new school year. I’m rooting for you and your family (and your coffee pot).
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