The Single Best Piece of Advice I Can Give You For This New School Year
By Laura Hull, LMFT
I might as well disclose upfront that I am the proud mother of six wonderful kids. My two oldest sons started college last fall on the same day my youngest child started Pre-Kindergarten. It was the first time in 18 years that a school year had begun and I had an empty house for a few hours per day. I am not ashamed to admit to you that I was in the throes of a “woe is me” pity party. I am not one of those mothers who count down the days of summer vacation, eagerly anticipating and then rejoicing as the summer break comes to an end. I always miss my children when the school year begins. I miss them terribly. But last fall was particularly harsh. The realization that my first babies were in college and my last baby was not a baby anymore was like a cold smack of reality right in the middle of my mother worrying, stress-lined face. Friends, let me just tell you. I was in a bad way. I tried to drown my sorrows in greasy cheeseburgers and reality checks (and counseling go-to speeches) along the lines of “This. Is. Normal.” “It won’t feel so bad tomorrow.” “They will always need me, but in a different way.” Ok, there was not enough cheeseburgers and girl talk in the world that could have made that day any better. I will concede to being at the beginning of a three-day funk. Those days were LOOONG! It seems hard to believe that it’s been a full year since those dark and dreadful days of cheeseburgers and tears.
I am not sure what was more jolting to me - my oldest starting college or my youngest child leaving for Pre-K. I would probably say my oldest sons starting college threw me back into memories of being a much younger mother. I had very poignant moments of questioning “where was I and what was I doing when they grew up all of a sudden?” Of course, the answer is that I was right there beside them. I was a stay at home mom until my oldest son was 11 and even now only work part time. I am very blessed that I have been able to stay home so much with my children, and my profession allows me that flexibility. But in those moments I was stunned at how quick their childhoods went by and are still flying by for my younger kids.
It is so cliché to say, “it all goes by too fast”. But I will join the chorus of middle age parents who bemoan the speed with which time is racing by with our kids in tow. Having said this, I am going to bestow on you the best piece of advice I can give you, as both a professional and a mother: hit the brakes. Find a way to live your life at a less frantic pace. I used to dread the hurry and chaos of school day mornings (and in truth, I still do at times). But now the demands of our schedule and our pace fluster me much less often. I can see that by stressing out as much as I did, I allowed our routine to rob me of some of my joy in raising my children. The world doesn’t end if the house isn’t perfectly clean. The world does not end if we are occasionally not on time. Weekends should not all be about ballgames and house chore catch up. HIT THE BRAKES.
It makes me a bit sad when I hear parents speak of dealing with their children in ways that resemble herding cattle, with about as much joy involved. The years of childhood will go by quickly whether you enjoy them as a parent or not. My home is always loud. We have eight people bustling in my home during the evenings when everyone is home. It’s alive with laughter, noisy conversations, and the sounds of life….happy engaging and the sounds of a family who love each other dearly. I was keenly aware of how quiet my house was the first day all my kids were gone. It felt like I was walking around in a tomb. I got a glimpse of what the empty nest feeling is probably like, and I am not in a hurry to get there, though it is just around the corner, really.
Commit this new school year to enjoying your kids. The time you have with them during these school years is so very brief in comparison to the years they will live away from you. Slow life down enough to actually enjoy it. Do not over-commit your time in ways that make it hard to enjoy time with your family. Make each child feel special and make a point to touch base with each of them individually, each day. You will never regret the time you spend with your children in ways that create special memories. You may very well regret the time you didn’t give if you don’t make a conscious effort to slow down now.
Make the time.