About a week before the first day of school, my 12-year-old son's grumbly end-of-summer countdown began.
"SEVEN DAYS!" he moaned.
Acknowledging his agony, I reflected, "I feel ya', bud." I tried to scrunch up my face a little, as if I was really suffering alongside him at the thought of school starting up again.
Surprised, but not buying it, he shot back a knowing grin, "No you don't! You're looking forward to us going back to school!"
The boy nailed me. And it's true: I'm that mom who's whistling Dixie while packing the first-day-of-school lunches.
And yet I'll always remember, a few years back, how difficult it was for my friend Jennifer when we sent our youngest children off to kindergarten. While visions of interruption-free laptop hours danced in my head, Jennifer was torn by grief the day she had to put her baby on the school bus. Which, of course, made me feel like a fiendish monster.
The reality is that every mom experiences "back to school" season differently. For some of us, clean new lunchboxes and freshly-sharpened pencils can be cues that a welcome new freedom is right around the corner. For others, like my friend, the same cues signal genuine loss. What I've learned since the day my baby started kindergarten is that both are natural responses.
Moms in Mourning
For a variety of reasons, a lot of moms will feel real angst about releasing a child to return to school. Laurie Sargent, author of Delight in Your Child's Design, explains, "If it's a first child, it may be hard to let go of having a child all to yourself—there's that realization that she is not a baby anymore and a new chapter in life is starting for you and your child." She adds, "Or if a child has experienced separation anxiety, mom may worry about new transitions." Parents of children with disabilities or children who've been bullied before, explains Sargent, may have real concerns about their children's experiences at school. For many mothers, the end of summer can trigger a host of worries and concerns.
One of the best things a parent can do, Sargent suggests, is to maintain a positive attitude. Kids will pick up on that. She offers, "Talk with your child about the positive, exciting aspects of his upcoming school year." Sargent encourages anxious parents with the words of the apostle Paul, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Philippians 4:6). One practical way to put Paul's exhortation into practice, as big yellow school buses return to your town's streets, is to use sightings of these vehicles as a prayer reminder! Whenever you see a school bus, pray for your child's experience at school, that he or she might be growing intellectually, socially, physically and spiritually.
Moms Who Are Celebrating
One of the reasons I'm looking forward to my three kids returning to school is that we are all ready for a change of pace. Pools are closing, friends in year-round school have been back in school for a month, and we've lost some of our early-summer creative energy. Brenda Nixon, author of The Birth to Five Book: Confident Childrearing Right From the Start, acknowledges, "Daily childrearing is hard work. Most moms feel a bit of relief when there are fewer cries of boredom or pleas for entertainment because their children are in school all day." As if she read my mind, Nixon adds, "Some parents are psyched because the structured routine of school makes their week comfortably predictable." I hear that. Predictable is sounding pretty fantastic right now.
And I realize that as I wave goodbye to my children each morning, and settle into a routine I'll have the responsibility to be a good steward of those blessed hours. Sargent encourages parents like me, "As you prepare your child to begin his new schedule, lift up to God your own. Ask Him to help you decide how to use the time apart from your children wisely, so that when they return to you at the end of the day you will have some energy and joy reserved for them, able to greet them with a big smile asking, 'How was your day?'" That end-of-the-day smile and conversation is something every mama will welcome.
Nixon encourages parents to trust in the One who first loved their children. "There will still be challenges, and perhaps tears, during the academic year," she explains, "but faith in God's supreme awareness and guidance can help parents and kids face the challenges with divine wisdom and confidence."
Margot Starbuck is a TCW regular contributor. Follow her on Twitter @MargotStarbuck.