Back to School: Parents – What About YOU?

It was early Wednesday morning, August 22nd and I walked my youngest daughter to our car. We took first day of school pictures – the final year of 14 years of her “first day of school pictures” – and I waved goodbye to her as she drove off in the car decorated with “Go Seniors” slogans. Then, well, then I cried. And, reaching out for support, I called my Mom and shared my mixed emotions of excitement and sadness about the beginnings of a new adventure for both my daughter and myself; and the closing stages of what has been an integral part of my life for 2 children and 19 years. That is big and I am so grateful my Mom was there to listen, understand and give me a telephone hug.

It got me to thinking about all the back to school articles I have seen lately. They tell how to prepare your child for the upcoming school year, clothes to buy, routines to establish, homework policies, what to pack for lunch, and what to watch out for. But, What About YOU, the parent? What about your stress? How do you manage your emotions, worries, and excitement and still be there for your children? Is it okay to even acknowledge you have a myriad of reactions?

I, for one, am here to give you total permission (if you need it) to feel it all! There is great excitement in sending your child off to school. Depending on how many children you have and how old they are, you might be looking forward to time alone, time to get something done uninterrupted, time to pursue an interest of your own. You might be relieved to be able to go to work without the added concern of child care. You might be thrilled at the possibilities ahead for your children – what they will learn, people they will meet, opportunities they will encounter. And, if you have children who struggle in school – academically, socially or with attention – you might also have some trepidation about what obstacles will come forth this year, how much advocating you will have to do, and when you will get that first phone call about trouble.  All these are real, valid and I heartily suggest you stop for a bit and become aware of what you are feeling, all of it. It isn’t black and white and totally understandable to have conflicting thoughts and emotions. You might even write them down to get them out of your head, try to do it without judging yourself for any of the feelings!

Okay, once you have acknowledged where you are at, how do you support your child and stay true to yourself? The wisdom is truly in your heart not your head. First of all, breathe, relax and know you will handle it, there is time, there is support and you can do it – so can your child. Here are 5 suggestions on how to access that wisdom. Try them, I think you will find the results empowering.

1. Be there for yourself and your child — do something kind for yourself like a fun lunch or a day off. And with you child, often your presence is very powerful – not grilling with a thousand questions, just be there for your child, without an agenda, no matter what their age.

2. Be Grateful — let them know you see their courage, willingness, tenacity, curiosity, energy, etc. and you are grateful they have that because …. <and tell them why> And, while you are at it, acknowledge your own!

3. Share something about your day — depending on your child and their age, you might share your emotions, something you did, an obstacle you overcame. This models all sorts of things for them and for you it keeps you in the picture which will keep you present and in your heart more readily.

4. Listen neutrally to what they want to share — with as few questions and as little judgement as possible. Let them know you are interested in their thoughts and feelings about the day, what they learned, who they met, anything they would like to share.

5. Avoid Problem Solving Right Away– unless absolutely necessary, express your trust in them to handle the situation, if there is a problem you can brainstorm with them if they want, use a let’s wait and “see how it all shakes out” attitude – changes are hard sometimes and this is just the beginning of the school year. Ask them to keep you posted on the situation and keep tabs on it, just not every day! Sometimes it takes a few days to iron things out.

My experience is that by following these guidelines you will  find the knowing inside as to if/when it is time to intervene and how to do it so your child is still empowered. You will also learn a lot about your child while feeling less anxiety  because there no need to fix it to perfection (what is that anyway?) right away. Sometimes there is nothing to do and rather than spinning your wheels (which I have done more than once!) you will have used this time to build your relationship with your child and his/her trust in themselves.

How did I take care of myself that first day of school? I took a walk, pampered myself a bit and gentled myself though my day. My daughter texted me later to tell me she choked up as she drove away too. We both felt the beginnings and the endings. What a blessing that we had established the space and trust to share them with each other.

Wishing you a school year of growth and empowerment!

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