It’s that time of year again. Teachers are decorating their classrooms, brand-new lunchboxes wait to be filled, and kids who have savored the delights of vacation are looking downright glum. If you’re a hardcore summer fan, you too may find it tough to get excited about the return of school. It’s not easy to exchange the relative leisure of vacation for the tyranny of the alarm clock, the inflexibility of pickup times, and the challenge of shepherding your family through another academic year while (hopefully) keeping your own life in balance.
Luckily, the start of school does not have to mean the end of sanity. Here are a few ways to ease the transition, making Back-to-School a positive, fun, and even spiritually enriching time for you and your family.
1. Make a New School Year’s Resolution. When I was a kid, I adored buying school supplies. The folders were clean, the pencils smelled like cedar, and the crayons hadn’t yet been blunted by use. If you’ll bear with my English teacher riff here, those supplies are symbolic of the beginning of the school year, when everything is fresh and new. If your kids are old enough, talk about what they hope to accomplish during the year. Do they want to participate more in class? Limit the number of after-school activities to create more time for the one they really love? You can even pen some personal goals for yourself, like reducing school-year stress by exercising three times a week (this one always works for me). Don’t attach guilt to the resolutions, but do check in and reevaluate them as the year goes on. It’s a great way to get kids reflecting on their own priorities.
2. Focus not on what you’re losing, but on what you’re gaining. Yes, it’s tough to bid goodbye to swimming pools and charcoal barbecues. But every season has its own charms. On my short list of autumn fun: taking the boys to the pumpkin patch, letting myself eat candy corn again, smelling wood smoke in the air. Even if school itself doesn’t generate any smiles, get your kids talking about fun experiences they had last fall. Pull out some photos if you need to refresh their memories (or your own).
3. Pack a letter along with the juice box and string cheese. At times throughout my childhood (and early adolescence), my mom would tuck a handwritten note into my lunchbox. “I love you! Enjoy the Cheese Puffs! Love, Mom.” When I was very young, these little letters helped me deal with the homesickness I often felt at school. When I was older, they were a subtle, non-intrusive reminder that my mom wanted to stay connected to me. Though I couldn’t have articulated this at the time, I loved the fact that I was holding something handwritten, something that Mom herself also touched. That’s instinctively comforting for kids, who sometimes need a little shot of motherly encouragement in the middle of a long school day.
4. Get mindful and remember that nothing stays forever. “This too shall pass,” my grandmother always used to say. While that is a comforting mantra when you’re so stressed out you can’t see straight, it also captures the bittersweet reality of parenting. Someday you will miss the four-year-old who, though exhausting, dances with excitement upon showing you the letters he traced at preschool, or the exasperating teen who makes an unguarded comment revealing how much she still values your approval. I always try to remember that wishing away the negatives of a certain phase of parenthood inevitably means wishing away its joys, too. So if the school year is ratcheting up your stress level, try this little assignment: pause, breathe deeply, and think, This won’t last forever. Savor what’s good about the present moment. In the classroom of life, it’s one of the most important lessons we’ll ever learn.