Most families with young children greet the end of summer with a natural and healthy mix of sadness and excitement. Our sadness has a few sources. We’re sad because summer is typically a less stressed and more carefree time. Many of us, especially here in Georgia, spend hours at the pool, enjoying the longer days, and the lack of scheduled (or over-scheduled activities). Knowing that our kids grow up way too quickly, we realize that these carefree summer days are precious and fleeting. So it’s not surprising that many families feel a tinge of sadness as summer comes to an end.
Alongside any feelings of sadness as summer fades away and we realize that our kids are growing up way too quickly, is the excitement that comes with embracing the next season of our lives. After all, life is both cyclical and seasonal. Summer will return again, and in the meantime, we transition to the start of the school year. Notice I didn’t say we transition to fall. That’s because we all know that school resumes way too early here in Georgia. And to be clear, it’s technically still summer even though we’re back to school!
If you feel a mix of sadness and excitement as we shift from summer to school, know that you’re not alone. Embrace the sadness, knowing that underneath it all there’s actually something more profound: joy and gratitude. We wouldn’t grieve the end of summer if we didn’t also feel an even greater sense of joy, delight, and appreciation. It’s a blessing to watch our children grow, to enjoy carefree days by the pool, to fall asleep while it’s still light outside, to apply endless amounts of sunscreen only to have everyone end up with a sunburn anyway! Recognizing this, any sadness we feel is tempered by the realization that much joy and gratitude await us in the days and months to come. Also, rather than keeping any feeling of sadness as a private and personal affair, share your feelings with your family and friends. That way our children, partners, and friends can help normalize our feelings and remind us that we’re all in this together.
A shift in seasons, especially the shift from summer to school, can be fraught with “to-do” lists. In addition to making sure clothes fit, backpacks are on trend, and forms are submitted, we should also save some energy for the emotional and spiritual side of returning and/or beginning school. For children and families that are “back to school” for the first time, meaning that they’re formally entering the school system, this is one of life’s great milestones. It’s one of the most profound “letting go” moments of parenthood. It’s the moment that we realize most fully that our child will be raised not only by a family, but by a community, a society, and a broader culture. Recognizing this is humbling, exciting, and also scary. Each year, the start of school is an opportunity for us as parents to establish healthy and positive relationships with the schools, principals, teachers, and other figures that will be impacting our child’s growth, development, journey, heart, and soul. Make sure you know your child’s teacher! Make sure they know how to reach you. Open the channels of communication. Build bridges. Establish partnerships.
In some young families the start of school brings with it a big change for some members of the family more than others. Perhaps a younger sibling isn’t starting school. In those cases, recognize and remember that a life change for one member of our family is a life change for all members of our family. Be attentive to the thoughts and feelings of everyone in the household, even pets! Create opportunities that make sense for your family in terms of expressing their feelings, hopes, dreams, and fears. Perhaps a picture or a note from a younger sibling or from an older sibling with best wishes or reassuring words. Anytime we attend to the emotional needs of our children we are strengthening them, strengthening our family, and modeling for them how to be resilient, embracing of change, and able to be open and honest with themselves and their loved ones.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this is, for many, a scary time to think about sending our children to school. We read about kindergarten teachers learning how to carry firearms, and about the many flaws and imperfections of our schools. We read about and know firsthand how hard it is to be a child in today’s world. And how hard it is to raise a child. When we turn our attention to these topics, we may feel a sense of powerlessness or fear. In those moments it’s important to remember that there are things life we can control and things that we cannot. The list of things within our control ends up being the shorter list for sure. But it’s also the more important list. Tend to those things, with love, with compassion, with courage, and with a sense of honest optimism that life will be kind to our family so that we may be kind and live compassionately in return.