I remember the pressure of getting the back-to-school supplies on “the list” that my children would need. There were also the new clothes and accessories that were “needed,” as dictated by the fashionista peers or advertisements that were ever present to my children but oblivious to me. I did my best as a parent, but I did not want to take out a second mortgage on the house to have my children win the popularity contests.
As a middle school teacher, I did my best to let parents and students know before school began that there was no rush to get all these materials from the list; I was more concerned about having my students prepared mentally and emotionally than with material stuff.
I learned over time that the best way to help my family, myself and the families of my students was to get into a routine before the pace of the school year started. A week prior to the start of school, we began to practice getting up earlier. We also had to practice going to bed a little earlier to make up for getting up earlier.
It was important to make sure we were all without our electronics. Aside from the social pressures, studies have shown that the lighting from these devices wreak havoc on our sleep. Also, lacking parental controls, another concern with having these devices available at all times is the overexposure of offensive material which literally results in our children’s innocence being taken away within the confines of our very own homes.
I knew that I had to organize myself before I could attempt to organize my children. I also learned that I wasn’t going to help my children learn how to be independent if I did everything for them. One great help was to have them pack their backpacks the night before with their shoes and coats nearby. The rush to get out the door on time can be lessened with planning, practice and patience. We, as the adults, have to set the tone and lead by example as challenging as this can be.
In that same vein, practice and plan some quiet alone time – maybe taking a walk, drawing, reading or singing to shake out the wrinkles of the day (the stress and anxieties of work); be mindful that playing a game, texting or watching TV does not count as it can just build up the stress. Take time in the evening for each other by sharing a meal. Perhaps in the car, while driving to or from sports or music practice share how your day went and ask how their day went, aiming to get more of a response than, “School was ok.” Share your frustrations, your joy, and the graces you witnessed in others. Listen to your children with no electronics as a distraction.
At the end of a busy week, we cannot neglect the time we need to spend with each other which includes our faith community. Getting the family up early for Sunday Mass might be too challenging, even if it is planned well. I recently spoke to a young family who shared that the 10:30 a.m. Mass was difficult on their 3-year-old because it was close to lunch and the child had a hard time sitting quietly. Their solution was to start going to the 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday.
Going to Mass, participating in prayers with those present and praying on behalf of others gives me a sense of belonging and brings glory to God. I can share this with my family and the larger family of my community. I may not have the exact words to explain the mystery of faith, the Passion of Christ, the invoking of the Holy Spirit in mystery of the bread and wine – those essential fruits of God that Christ provides in the Eucharist, but I can experience this with those around me. I can seek answers to questions I have and those of my children in the vast resources given to me in the Catholic bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, my pastor and reputable sources online. I can be bold and seek a study group or spiritual director who can guide me, which in turn will guide my family.
God’s timing and pace, I have learned is not of this world. So, as we transition from the “carefree” days of summer to the more stressful days of school, turn to Him, ask Him for guidance. Rest in the assuredness that God’s unconditional love will carry you through every season, even “Back to School.”
—Terri McCormack is marriage and family life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.
—Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.