Don’t Fall Down This Fall
As the father of three great kids, I have always felt rather conflicted with the start of the school year. On one hand, I always enjoyed getting our kids out of the house and our family back to some semblance of routine. On the other hand, every
year my wife and I have felt a deep sense of sadness because the gauntlet of extracurricular activities begins to fire up. Along with this busyness comes a greater degree of sadness because each fall we launch our kids back into school is one more
year that we are closer to launching them out into the world. Here are some tips on how to weather the highs and lows of the back to school season.
1. Set Up Sacred Family Time
every season, all families need to set up some sacred family time. The demands of school, extracurricular activities, work, etc. can chew up time fast. As parents, we can find ourselves feeling more like chauffeurs than mom or dad. Set up time
every week to put down activities and screens and focus on quality relationship time. This can be one or more nights a week where you eat dinner together at the table. It can be a family walk around the neighborhood. Consider a weekly family trip
for ice cream and leave the phones at home. Even something as simple as a family game night where everyone is focused on relationships and fun for an hour or two makes a big difference.
2. Run A Daily Health
As children move from
childhood to adolescence and eventually into adulthood, they begin to “uncleave” from their parents and establish independence. This is normal and healthy. However, no matter what stage your kids are in, it’s important to establish some daily
rhythm of communication to see how they are doing. In our household we do something called “highs and lows”. At the end of the day we ask our kids something like this: “What was the best part of your day? What was the worst?” Yes, there will be
seasons where your son or daughter says “I don’t know.” That is where you should be vulnerable and share with them your highs and lows to get the ball rolling. Also when you get “I don’t know” it’s not bad to establish your love and care by
saying something gentle like “Well that’s ok if you don’t know, but I am going to ask you this question each day because I love you, I care about you, and I want to know how you are doing.” You may continue to get many more days and months of “I
don’t know”, but continue to ask daily and share your own status. The earlier you start a practice like this with your kids the easier their receptivity to the questions will be in their teen years. If they are already a teen when you start this
just know it’s never too late. It may be harder and take more time, but be patient and persevere with love.
3. Limit Screen Time
If you are
like most of us, most of your family’s time is chewed up on screens. This is the necessity of living in the modern world. Our kids spend 6-8 hours on Chromebooks at school. Many of us now work from home and even if we go into the workplace our
time is spent behind the glow of a computer monitor. We get off the screens because our kids have sports, band, plays, etc. However, what little free time our families do have is spent right back on screens in isolation from each other in games,
social media, or Netflix. Please hear me out. Screens are not evil and I struggle with them too, but there should be some free time each day away from screens and activities each day to rest our minds. Both adults and kids need to relearn the art
of being bored. Bored is beautiful. Bored is even more beautiful when two or more people are bored together. One of the healthiest things you can do with your family is “waste time” together doing nothing. In the end, it is not “waste” at all.
Whatever you do, don’t let your kids take screens to bed. Collect and turn off all screens at least one hour before bedtime.
4. Quarterly Family Fun Day
vacations the best! My family and I love getting away and spending quality time together. Even those rough seasons where my kids were teens and we had more fights than laughter, we still built some great family memories through the struggles and
meltdowns. It’s crazy to me when my kids reference those trips and don’t bring up the bad (which is what I remember) and they bring up the good (which is what I forget). Yet here is a big problem, we only get those vacations with quality family
time once or twice a year. The rest of the year we are usually on the treadmill of daily life running with a steep incline with the speed cranked up to 10. We don’t have the time or money to do a family vacation once a month, but maybe we don’t
have to. What would it look like if once every three months you slated one day for a family activity that’s local. What about a weekend? It doesn't have to cost you anything. Here are some ideas:
Have a picnic in your backyard.
Go to a park like Deam Lake or Clifty State Park.
Serve as a family at the local food pantry.
Take a trip to Mammoth Caves.
Float trip down the Blue River or Elkhorn Creek.
Enjoy a shopping trip to the mall.
Take day trip to Cincinnati or
Go to a ball game.
Have fun at a local play or concert.
And the list goes on...
The most important thing is this: get it on your
calendar and guard that date like a pit bull! What isn’t scheduled, planned, and strategic rarely materializes. Move from this being an idea to an action. Pick something that facilitates interaction and face-to-face relational time.
5. Process Your Parenting and The Changes In Your Household In Community
It is very painful to process your parenting,
family life, and aging alone. You should do this with your spouse, your own parents, and friends. What happens if you are divorced and/or don’t have a good relationship with your parents? What if I don’t have any friends to share my parenting
struggles with? This is where communities that offer support come into play like a church. At Northside, we have fantastic family ministries that help both kids and parents navigate family challenges. One of our staff in these areas would love to
help and encourage you. There are no perfect families, but we do believe we can all develop healthy ones and it’s never too late.
6. Write Your Kid(s) A Back-To-School
Yes I know that
school has already started for most of us, but it's not too late to do this. Sit down at the start of every school year and write a letter to each of your kids. Share about how proud you are of them with what they accomplished last year.
Acknowledge any struggles and victories from last year. Then share with them about the year to come. Let them know that the coming year may be hard, but you will work hard to be there. Gently, without over parenting, give them advice and wisdom
about how they can make the year better. Share with them what great things are coming. Above all let them know that they are loved and supported in the year to come.
7. Give Yourself Grace
stop being so hard on yourself! It’s tempting to read an article like this and walk away with a guilt complex. Trust me. My kids are on screens too much. We have had seasons where we over book our families too. My wife and I have felt the
loneliness of sending our kids back to school. Every parent feels the guilt and shame of what they should or should not be doing. The older we get and the closer we come to launching our kids out of the household, the more regret we can have.
Here’s the thing, I want you to know whether your kid is 2 or 20: it’s never too late to do better.
Parenting is HardThe start of
a new school year often surfaces as a time of reflection and some negative emotions (guilt, regret, shame, etc.). As our “babies” get older, we realize our time is getting shorter. Leverage this contemplative time to see the gaps in your parenting
and your family’s lifestyle, but don’t stay there. The past doesn’t have to be your trajectory for the future. Even minor adjustments like some of the suggestions above can start to create a healthier family eco system. Always remember, kids are
more forgiving of your mistakes than you are. A few small gestures of love from you can wash away many mistakes in the past.
If you are the parents of teens or college
students who are a bit more hurt by your mistakes, persevere with love, kindness, and gentleness over a long period of time. Those situations are often a marathon, not a sprint. At the start you are more likely to receive scorn than love. Don’t
be combative, defensive, or give up. Over time, if you are sincere, your kids will most likely forgive. An apology and intentional love can go a long way.
As our kids go back to school, they are not the
only ones who can learn this time of year. Parents need to go “back to school” by continuing to learn and grow in their parenting. Learning to parent is a journey over a lifetime that never ends (even after we launch them out of the household) so
we are always in school. With the tips above, I think we can all “raise our grades.”