My three kids went back to school a few weeks ago after a fun-filled and relaxing summer vacation.
For this mama, the start of school was magical! It meant back to a home that was peaceful and clean. Back to quiet mornings doing chores and listening to audio books.
Not only that, but it marked a major milestone in my journey as a parent… all three in the SAME SCHOOL with ONE drop off!!
Can I get a hallelujah?!
For my kids, however, back to school this year was tough, to say the least.
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Much of their grief was due to pure exhaustion. I mean, for 10 whole weeks they didn’t have to think. At least not in the same way they do at school.
Let’s face it, figuring out how to cram 8 neighborhood kids on one pool raft and paddle across to the other side without falling off is not the same as learning new math, recalling details of a reading passage and navigating new relationships with friends and teachers.
But their displeasure this year went a bit beyond just being tired.
Without going into too much detail (because I just don’t think it matters in the end), they were upset, sad and anxious because they were faced with a few situations that they just weren’t expecting.
We went in with a pretty clear view of what the year was going to look like and came out with a picture that had been turned upside down and inside out.
To me, looking at the situation objectively as a fairly optimistic adult with some solid experience handling change and disappointment, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. At least nothing earth shattering. Just give it some time and they’d adjust perfectly fine.
But to them, it was a very big deal. And as their mom, I could clearly see that they were hurting, angry, embarrassed, worried and grieving the loss of what they thought their year was going to be.
It tore my mama heart right down the middle.
Naturally, as a parent, I wanted to fix it as fast as humanly possible. I wanted to reassure them that everything would be just fine, buy them some ice cream and then storm then principal’s office, placing blame, pointing fingers and demanding that things be changed on their behalf.
Maybe even throw a few punches.
No, not really. But sort of really…
But I didn’t. Because that’s not how adults act. Or at least not how they should act.
Instead, I listened first.
Listening sounds easy but it may be one of the hardest things for me to do as a parent (and a spouse… and a friend).
We all want to pipe up and be heard. We all want our advice to be taken to heart, put in our two scents and offer up suggestions.
More so, as a parent, when our kids are hurt or upset we want to jump in and repair the situation or side-step it all together with a quick it’s going to be okay or a stop complaining, it’s not that bad or perhaps a this really isn’t worth your tears.
But that shuts them down. It communicates that their problems aren’t worth listening to and that they’re being silly or ridiculous.
If we want our kids to talk to us and confide in us then we have to be willing to let them talk, regardless of how silly or ridiculous we think they’re being.
Thus, the first step is always to just listen. Sit there silently nodding your head in a very consolatory manner, offering up a few gentle comments such as that sounds rough or I am so sorry you’re going through this.
Let them know your ears are open and they are free to vent.
Validate their Feelings
Reassure them that it’s normal and okay to feel sad, frustrated and even angry. Maybe even let them know that you would feel that way, too, if you were in their position.
Then, rather than helping them run away from the situation, help them persevere.
As tempting as it is to grab your kid by the hand and flee the circumstances… don’t.
Believe me, my mind went there immediately. I started thinking crazy thoughts like maybe we should switch schools, maybe I should request a class change and, even crazier still, maybe it’s time to consider homeschooling.
Just kidding homeschooling parents, y’all are better people than me and I think what you do is awesome. I just don’t have it in me. I’m pretty sure I would last all of 10 minutes as a homeschooling mom.
Seriously, though… what does running away from hard things teach our kids?
Well, it teaches them to give up and run away from hard things. It teaches them that there’s no sense in sticking around when times get tough and that if they don’t like their situation, they can just up and leave to find a new one.
But that’s not real life. Life, unfortunately, is hard. It’s awesome and wonderful, too, but it’s also really dang hard sometimes. Relationships are hard. Careers are hard. Illness is hard. Being financially responsible is hard. Eating right and exercising is hard. Parenting is hard.
And those are things you just can’t escape. Not without serious consequences, at least.
Get to work. Not on fixing the situation for them, but on helping them navigate their emotions through this difficult season in life.
Because, ultimately, as parents, that’s our job, right?
Our job isn’t to always fix or eliminate their problems when life gets tough, but rather to help them navigate their emotions while pressing in and soldiering on.
As much as we want our kids to have happy, perfect lives all the time that’s just not possible and it’s certainly not preparing them for the real world.
We need to help them shift their perspective from negative to positive. Help them find things to be grateful for in the midst of resentment. Help them look for the good in people and circumstances even when it seems impossible.
It’s important to teach them that rules and procedures are put in place for a reason and, even if we don’t always like them or agree with them, we still have to work hard and respect authority.
Teach them that they’re just not always going to like or agree with their teachers, future bosses, friends, parents and/or spouses but that those people can’t be discredited, disrespected or abandoned on a whim.
The same goes for their circumstances.
Albeit challenging, this school year has opened the door for some really good conversations about life and how to handle it when situations don’t turn out the way we want them to.
And for that, I’m grateful.
If you’d like an update, we are now half-way through the year (thank God). My kindergartner has adjusted well and my daughter now loves everything about 2nd grade. My oldest son (3rd grade), however, is still having a really rough year.
He is still complaining daily, I’m still listening and we are both still finding ways to look for the positive and push through to the end.
His complaints and concerns have evolved some from the beginning of the year but they are still there.
He is not being bullied, he is not in any physical or serious emotional danger, he is not being treated unfairly and his grades aren’t tanking. If that were the case, I would have gotten him help and advocated for him a long time ago.
To put it simply, he just doesn’t like school this year. The work is harder and more intense, his teacher is tough and the stress of standardized testing looms on the horizon.
But I’ve also seen him grow in so many other ways this year. I have watched him learn how to cook basic meals for our family and take initiative when it comes to helping others and helping out around the house.
I have watched him navigate tricky neighborhood friendships with grace, empathy and patience. He’s learned a new sport and improved a lot in a sport he’s been playing for years. I have watched him continue to work hard in school and make good grades despite his displeasure.
I’m really proud of him and I make sure to tell him that a lot.
Hang in their parents, summer is never more than 4 nine-weeks away!
Perhaps prayer is not your “thing” but these verses from Romans chapter 5 (verses 1-5) are some of my favorites and ones I’ve thought about and leaned on often this school year. Perhaps you can lean on them, too.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the Glory of God. Not only so but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.