Back To School
One Woman's Approach
I’m Laura, wife of 12 years to a kind, math-genius…
and mother to 3 kids, ages 9,7,and 5, all with lots of personality.
“Back to school” from my perspective is simultaneously a buzzkill and a breath of fresh air. The pressures of structure & schedules all come rushing back. On the other hand, I love what school can provide my kids. Opportunities for growth abound, intellectually & socially.
Here’s my plan of attack this time around:
1. Establish simple goals for family life.
Ask what worked last year? What didn’t? What do you want more or less of? Do you need to say no to some things to allow more down time? Do you want to learn something new as a family?
I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, but taking a pulled back view offers insight into how my family functions. Plus, asking my husband and kids these questions lets everyone have a voice into family life. Now if we get invited somewhere every night of the week, I am able to say no when necessary (without guilt!) in order to build in time at home, give my kids decent bedtimes, or insert-goal-here. A game plan is a very good thing.
2. Look for ways to streamline and organize operations.
There is no way around it, being a parent means you are responsible for SO MANY THINGS. Without order to the chaos, it becomes very unpleasant to live with kids. Or rather, live with their stuff. Shoes take over the entryway, dirty laundry covers the bedroom floor, homework binders are haphazardly strewn about the counter, last night’s dishes are heaped in the sink…am I giving you a panic attack? I have dealt with those specific issues in our home over the years and continue to see the value in rethinking the system again and again in order to improve our functionality. I have learned that dishes are NEVER easier the next day, shoe storage is a must, and kids need ongoing encouragement to get their dirty laundry in the hampers.
Here’s one recent example of streamlining our home from last year: Our house does not have a mudroom with hooks for coats and cubbies for shoes. What we do have is a depressingly narrow chute of a laundry room only wide enough to pass from the garage into the kitchen. Backpacks (3+!), my purse, and in the winter months, coats, were all hung off door knobs inside the laundry room. It became difficult to do laundry, difficult to enter the house, difficult to close the doors, difficult to take the trash out, difficult to breath, you get the idea. My ever-loving sanity depended on us finding a new solution for the bags! We turned the room over and over in our minds and took stock of what solutions our home could offer. The solution lay in another area of the house. By the front entrance we hung a series of low hooks. Backpacks are now easy to reach and I’m not crammed in the claustrophobic laundry room tunnel with 3 extra people trying to load our bags for the day! Choosing to relocate the backpacks has helped give everyone the space and order we need.
Other streamlining solutions could include: ordering groceries online, carpooling with another parent, simplifying meals, making lunches the night before, you get the idea. Assess your needs and think outside the box!
3. Embrace the teacher situation.
I decided a few years ago to take every bit of information shared with me about the teachers in our school with a grain of salt. Parents love to say all sorts of things to one another about their experiences with the school, mostly good intentioned. This can lead to worry or fear. “I know I don’t want to get Johnson, I’ve heard bad things….”
This is how my husband and I have decided to view teachers:
Every child is unique, every teacher is unique, and every school year is unique. Teachers work incredibly hard to cover lots of material, guide several dozen kids at varying levels of development (usually solo!), and keep the peace. My own child is not perfect, no child is, and no teacher will be! I certainly pray that my child will be carefully placed in a classroom with a compassionate, resourceful, engaging teacher, but I also recognize that I do not want to be the buffer between my kids and the real world. This is the part of parenting I’m working on: allowing times of discomfort or struggle in their lives in order to foster growth in them. I can’t follow my children through life constantly herding them away from disappointments; I don’t believe that’s the goal of my job as their mother. I’m absolutely there with and for them when they encounter challenging circumstances, but I make it my aim to be their sounding board, encourager, and coach, NOT a shield.
Let’s say this year presents a teacher who is less than a great fit. This is my personal manifesto: I will go to the teacher privately and voice any concerns with kindness. I will ask for their opinion of my child and offer to assist their efforts. If necessary, I will politely request a different game plan. I will monitor the situation as the days go by, not allowing things to escalate into a mountain. And lastly, I will absolutely never share any negative words about the teacher with my child or another parent with a hidden agenda to slander. Build up, don’t tear down.
Every child is unique, every teacher is unique, and every school year is unique. Teachers work incredibly hard to cover lots of material, guide several dozen kids at varying levels of development (usually solo!), and keep the peace. My own child is not perfect, no child is, and no teacher will be!
4. Add times of intention with your spouse and kids.
My marriage is vital. My kids need to have restful, fun time with me and my husband. School can be a relentless master, keeping us on the treadmill week in, week out. If I don’t schedule an ice cream date with my daughter it will never happen. Why? Because I am always too tired in the thick of it to spontaneously go out! But if I make a plan, I am holding myself to a promise. Planning purposeful, intentional down time could mean you and your spouse have a game night, you take your son to a movie, you teach your daughter how to make a cake, or anything that creates closeness. I want to foster deep communication as a family. I want them to know I have their backs. The rewards are so worth it!
But if I make a plan, I am holding myself to a promise. Planning purposeful, intentional down time could mean you and your spouse have a game night, you take your son to a movie, you teach your daughter how to make a cake, or anything that creates closeness.
5. Welcome change.
My life has had distinct seasons. I vividly recall when the kids were ages 4, 2, and newborn thinking my life would be lived forever on my kitchen and living room floor. I had not set foot in a store between the hours of noon and 3 pm in years due to nap times. Did people still go places during the early afternoon? I had no idea. I truly loved my life at home watching those precious babies develop and grow, and knew it was a huge blessing. There were times of difficulty, for sure. More than once I commented to my husband that it was the most challenging thing I had ever done. But, then one day my son was school aged. Then a few years later, my daughter was old enough for school. This year, my baby is going to Kindergarten. What in the world? Suddenly I am no longer a mom with babies at home! I felt like I found my rhythm and now things are changing!
Historically, change can be a little unnerving for me. I love an itinerary, I thrive when I can anticipate events, and if I say so myself, I’m pretty good at planning. Suddenly being a mom of kids, and not toddlers & babies, is new territory for me. I am now able to consider new opportunities and a different flow to life. I’m still working this over in my mind and am choosing to look forward to finding a new normal.
One tip: please don’t ask moms like me what we are going to do with ourselves. Chances are, they are a bit unsure about it themselves, and also don’t appreciate the insinuation that their life is going to be a nonstop bonbon binge.
The other encouraging thing about welcoming change is the freedom it gives you. If you try something and find that after a month, a few weeks, or even a day in that it isn’t going to work for you it is absolutely fine to opt out! I’m not heralding flakiness, but often moms feel locked into scenarios that do not make sense. If you signed up to be the room parent and life gets too crazy, ask another parent to step in. If you find that taking your kids to 6 different practices and 3 games throughout the week doesn’t work, you can quit. Truly, it is ok. Allow things to shift until you find the right pace for you and your family.
Here’s to an exciting new school year!