How to avoid “doing the most” this school year

The girls setting goals for the upcoming school year using their new planners.

It all seemed like a good idea at first: help my family establish a new normal heading into the start of the school year by cramming it all into one Sunday afternoon. What could go wrong? Apparently, everything! Like many parents, what seems brilliant in conception, gets botched in execution. I’m now spending the first morning of school playing catch up. Lesson learned: now is not the time to be doing the most. Instead, perhaps it’s an opportunity to figure out what matters the most and just do that, and barely anything else. (Hint: I bet it’s fewer things than you might imagine).

To help you understand how badly I’d failed, I need to backtrack just a bit. I’d just started a new book, The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices. I was itching to re-establish some new school time routines and apply what I was learning. So far, so good right? Except, I underestimated the thoughtfulness and practicality required to do so. I should know better. I was once an elementary teacher for goodness sakes! I would spend weeks during the beginning of the year establishing routines in order for things to run like clock work.

But I kept seeing all of those glamour social media posts…you know the ones with the fancy home classroom set ups with the hashtags #readyforschool or #ournewhomeschool or #whyme? (Ok, I made up the last one…). So I was a little jealous and I wanted to get in the game too. Besides, most of us are practically in the same boat anyway. We’ve got to figure out how to navigate both working from home and ensuring our kids are supported through digital learning, all while maintaining our sanity. Routines seem like the right answer right?

Here’s where I went wrong. First, I was too ambitious to begin with, introducing too many new routines at once. Learn from my mistake. Ask yourself, what absolutely needs to happen each day to set your kid up for success? Do that and nothing more, at least at first. After a while perhaps you can introduce new routines, one at a time over time if they’re meaningful. Introducing too many new things at once only seems to overwhelm or confuse the kids (and the adults).

My second big mistake was trying to go it alone. I didn’t ask the kids how they wanted to prepare. I didn’t even ask my wife. I know, that was a big whoops. What had happened was… typically I’m the organized planner in our household. So usually with these types of things I take the lead. What I didn’t expect, but should have anticipated, was that my wife had other plans for our Sunday afternoon besides me spending hours for example trying to get my kids to buy into the full focus planner system. (You read that correctly. It’s actually pretty useful for adults, but perhaps a bit complicated for kids. We’ll see.). She had other pressing things on the agenda like…doing their hair before school, giving everyone a chance to relax and enjoy their last full day of summer vacation… you know, things that are important as well. In my enthusiasm to make sure we were all prepared for day one, I ended up causing a bunch of stress and at least 4-5 meltdowns (6-7 if you count the adults lol).

Finally, and probably most importantly, I forgot what I already knew. We have routines already that work for us. Not only that, but we have routines that have actually served as rituals, reinforcing meaning and purpose in our everyday lives. For example everyday we eat real breakfast together (real = eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc for those not from the south). Everyday we do affirmations. We discuss our day over family dinner. These kinds of routines have now become sacred practices that allow us to be intentional about reinforcing who we are as a family and what we care about. I bet if you look at what you regularly do, you’ll find your own routines that matter.

So, here’s what I encourage parents to consider as you transition from summer pandemic life to school year pandemic life. What are the routines that matter to who we are as a family? Here are some questions to get you started, worth discussing perhaps over dinner with the entire family (learn from my mistake!)

  • How should you start your day as a family in a way that reinforces what matters most?
  • How should you end your day as a family in a way that reinforces what matters most?
  • What do your current routines (habits, regular way of doing things) indicate about what matters most to you?

For that last question, here’s a thought: you might discover that you are routinely doing something that reinforces the wrong messages. Perhaps you want your kids to be less stressed when they log onto zoom in the mornings for class, but everyone wakes up 5 minutes before class time. That might present an opportunity for a new evening or morning routine. Routines, like habits, reinforce who we want to be everyday. And here’s the good news: we get to choose. So choose wisely, and please, try not to do the most. It tends to backfire.

Signed,

A reformed over-achiever. SDW3

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