By Katie Leibman, M.A., LCPC
As I was driving to the store to pick up the last of my daughter’s school supplies, I was thinking about how momentous this time of year is for my family. For many, the start of another school year is a more noteworthy fresh start than January 1st. New milestones are reached as children get older and gain more independence, but anxieties can also resurface from struggles that were experienced in the previous year. Parents rejoice at the structure that the summer lacked and students bemoan the daily work that once again fills their evenings. Childcare arrangements need tweaking, mornings start earlier and family routines needs restructuring. September rolls around every year and I try not to be surprised by the barrage of emotions, and yet every year I still find that it knocks the wind out of me.
As I prepare myself and my family for another school year, and as I talk with clients and their families about the same process, I’m reminded of how during transitional times like this we need to take care of ourselves. So here is what I’m working on myself for this school year, while encouraging others to do the same:
In her “Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto”, Brene Brown says, “Parenting is a shame and judgment minefield precisely because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children.” Isn’t that the truth? So many questions plague our mind at the beginning of the year: Is she going to struggle with reading again this year? Will my son make any friends? Are my high schooler and I going to argue EVERY single night over homework? And oftentimes the root of those questions is us as parents wondering – am I enough? Can I do this? Can my child do this? Brene answers those questions for us: “We live in a culture with a strong sense of scarcity. "We wake up in the morning and we say, 'I didn't get enough sleep.' And we hit the pillow saying, 'I didn't get enough done.'" We're never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. "For me," says Brown, "the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It's enough. I'm enough. My kids are enough."
Some people are going to cut their kids sandwiches into butterfly shapes, and some families will be grateful to remember to grab a Lunchable as they rush out the door. Some kids are going to start reading early this year, and some kids are going to need some extra help. Some parents are going to go to every PTA meeting and some parents just don’t have the flexibility to do that. Create expectations for yourself and your family that actually work for you and your family and not the family down the street. You are enough!
Good self care:
As an extrovert I've noticed an increased need to reach out to people and feel supported within a community as we start another school year. Hearing about how other families are managing during this time of year helps to prevent me from feeling isolated and alone and instead helps me feel connected to other parents and families around me. Other members of my family are introverts- they need quiet alone time after work and school after full days of interacting with others. Alone time is what helps them to feel calm, centered and ready for the next day.
As sports, clubs and other commitments start back up, maybe you need to intentionally carve out some family time. Or maybe you and your partner need to get on the same page and either schedule a planning night together or even a date night. Invest in the relationships that are most important to you- during transitional times this is more important than ever.
Being aware and respectful of your family members’ needs is important year round, but can be especially useful during times of stress. Everyone copes differently.
The whole family needs extra sleep - we're tired at the end of the day and physically feeling the toll that transitional times take on all of us. As a general guideline:
Preschoolers (ages 3-5) need approximately 11-13 hours of sleep every 24 hours. School age children (ages 6-13) need 9-11 hours, teenagers need 8-10 and adults need 7-9 hours. The morning comes early for many of our kids, so helping to adjust bedtime can be crucial to making sure everyone in your family has the energy they need for the next day.
Evaluate your nighttime routine (or start a nighttime routine if you don’t have one!) and see if it helps to ease your family into the school year a bit more easily.
This is also a good time to look at your calendar and to evaluate the commitments your family has made. How many days a week are you able to eat a meal together? Is there something that you can say no to this fall that would create time for something better? Make sure that you AND yours kids are doing things for fun- things that bring enjoyment and not a feeling of pressure or a sense of obligation.
This one is the simplest to explain, and for some the most difficult to implement. Change is hard. Meeting new people is hard. Being in a new routine is hard. Celebrate small successes- an act of courage, making a new friend, starting out the year organized, or just surviving the first week! The possibilities are limitless and can be unique to your family- take a moment to acknowledge what you've done together as a family.
Sleeping statistics found at www.sleepfoundation.org
Brene Brown articles: