Dear Lauren –
My four kids are going back to school soon (one in elementary school, one in middle school, and two in high school), and we all have the back-to-school blues. My kids are average students (B’s and C’s) and have extra-curricular activities throughout the year. They enjoy school, friends, and sports, but our schedule gets so busy during the school year. We start with early-bird swim, end with night-time games, and squeeze homework into all the other free places. Even my child in elementary school seems overloaded. I limit my kids to two extra-curricular activities at any time, and I’m not sure I’d take anything away, but wish I could breathe easier during the school year.
Dear Back-to-School Blues –
The academic school year can be a stressful time for students, parents, and families. Especially in Northern Virginia, where we are fortunate to have so many opportunities for our children, it can be easy to find your schedule managing you instead of you managing your schedule.
The good news is that you can assert more control over your schedule. The bad news is that this will most likely include saying no to more opportunities as they arise or further limiting the number of activities you or your kids are involved in. It sounds like the boundaries that you have in place, while important and a good start, don’t build in enough time and space for you to ‘breathe easier’ during the school year. Begin by identifying what kind of important and/or relaxing activities you would like to include in the schedule, but don’t feel like you can during the school year. This will likely include trying to figure out how to slow down the pace as well as thinking about family rituals, especially dinner, attending worship, family outings, or having a day or night routinely that is devoted to the family.
I know that this is harder than it sounds. Whenever you seek to set up boundaries, you will inevitably encounter resistance. After all, if there was no resistance (or pressure), there would be little need for a boundary. You will likely feel pressure from your child, from your community, and from yourself. What will happen as a result of giving into the pressure of a great opportunity seems very clear: your child will get to participate in an exciting opportunity that will in some way benefit them. What will happen as a result of guarding your family time or your schedule may seem less clear. Family dinners may not be as peaceful as they sound, siblings may argue more than you’d like, or your entire family may sit around (perhaps even in separate rooms, in front of separate screens) wondering what the fuss was about being less busy and having more family time.
As a parent, it is reasonable to have a vision about your family’s values, traditions, and routines. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about what you specifically want to happen during the school year. Do you want to have more time that isn’t scheduled? What would that look like? Is it possible to schedule in a block of time per week that is unscheduled? The block of time could be routine or changing as the week’s routine changes. Remember that setting aside the time is just one part of the process. Making something happen during that time — whatever that is — is another step entirely. It is quite possible that you will encounter resistance there, too. It is up to you and your spouse to make that happen.
I encourage you and your husband/wife to talk about your collective vision for your family. What do you want to teach your children about family, managing external stresses, and saving some time to just breathe. Think about what that means specifically for your family: dinner, movie night, family hike, afternoon at the rec center pool. Then talk about what you would need to do to make that happen. Consider having a family meeting. Family meetings are an excellent method of introducing and discussion new ideas, solving problems, staying current with schedules, and identifying issues before they get-out-of-hand.
I wish you the best in your endeavor to create and persist in allowing yourself and your family more time to breathe during the school year.