This is a Guest Post from Cherie at Queen of Free
I remember it just like it was yesterday. My husband and I were about to participate in a ritual all parents of newborn babies romanticize. Our sweet little firstborn was about to receive her very first official bath. We read all of the books. We consulted all the Babycenter web boards (hey, it was 2002 and there weren’t too many blogs yet). We prepared the space – fresh diaper, clean pajamas, baby bathtub on the kitchen counter filled with water that the thermometer duck declared both safe and warm. And we pulled from the dresser drawer the most beautiful white towel, pristine and smelling of Dreft.
Quickly we undressed our sweet little doll so the water temperature wouldn’t drop into frowny face frigid digits. We placed her in the water. She smiled back at us. Or at least we thought it was a smile. We were incorrect.
In a matter of fifteen horrifying seconds this idyllic first bath moment went from the definition of clean to a slippery newborn who would not, could not stop pooping – everywhere and on everything. The white towel, the bathtub, the happy duck thermometer, my husband’s shirt – nothing was safe. Shocked and overwhelmed, we did our best to wrestle her into a diaper and clean up the mess. Disappointment followed.
Expectations and reality collided full force. The resulting fiasco unsettled us for a couple of days. Who did we think we were? Could we really be expected to parent?
Fast-forward fourteen years and I can find myself feeling those same emotions as my kids go back to school. For weeks I both dread and look forward to launching them into a new year. We shop the list, go to Meet the Teacher nights, pay for books. We get back into the school wake/sleep routine. We squeeze in the last bit of summer fun and also do responsible chores like cleaning up the house so we’re all prepared.
Maybe you’re a bit like idealistic me? This is going to be the best. school. year. ever.
But when reality meets our unrealistic expectations two weeks into the new routine, all of those preparations fall flat. We discover we set unachievable idealistic standards, placing extra pressure on our kids and ourselves. It’s an environment that breeds a May where we’re barely plodding along.
So I place these ideas in front of you as sparks to create an environment with a lot more peace and tranquility (and hopefully a lot less poop everywhere). Here’s how we keep our junk together, remaining organized and focused throughout the entire school year trying not to set unrealistic expectations at the same time.
15 Minutes of Night Before Prep
Each evening, after the kids go to bed, I migrate to the couch. I pop open my laptop or I read a book or I binge a good Netflix episode (or four) with my husband. The very last thing I want to do is spend any more time in the kitchen, or honestly do anything responsible. I just want to veg. But I refuse to sprout roots and force myself through fifteen minutes of prep time in my kitchen. I set the coffee maker so it brews automatically before my alarm even goes off. I put away leftovers if I haven’t already. I may even prep lunch box items. Fifteen minutes of mundane makes the morning so much easier. You don’t have to spend hours. Just choose a few short tasks to eliminate before you go to bed. Even if you have to set the timer on your stove or play some inspirational music, do what it takes. You won’t regret those simple steps and minutes spent the next day.
A Place for Everything
Papers in the backpack. Papers on the floor. Papers in bedrooms, on the kitchen table, the car, and everywhere else you turn around. It’s enough to drive any mom to the brink of insanity and beyond. To make your school experience sing, you’ve got to place some breathing marks in the measure. That means you have need to find designated drop spots for those items your kids bring home every single day. While the paper dragon may be the most difficult to tame, lunch boxes, backpacks, gym uniforms, water bottles and more need homes, too. You don’t have to become a HGTV styled professional organizer. Even stacks of magneted papers on the refrigerator can suffice. Each of my girls has their own pile of necessary notices clipped together with a cute little powerful magnet. Think through the items that most frustrate you when you discover they’ve been discarded haphazardly and then find create a system that works for you.
Touch It Once
I can’t count the number of times I couldn’t remember where I put the permission slip/volunteer form/super important paper. In the past couple of years, I’ve made it a common practice that the first thing my kids do when they arrive home after school is to empty their folders and their lunch boxes. This simple daily practice helps me to immediately tame the mess and prevent the loss of forms. Unneeded papers are discarded, as are lunchbox leftovers (this cuts down on discovering half eaten food in a month’s time). Forms are immediately filled out and placed in their proper home. Try to touch everything only once and put things in their place from the beginning.
Helping Kids Own Their Experience
Here’s the very good news. More than likely you have already graduated. You made it through Kindergarten, kept up the good work through elementary school, survived middle school, and walked the hallowed halls of your high school to receive a diploma on the other end. There is no need to repeat the experience. My kids probably tire of me saying, “I’ve already been in 3rd/4th/6th/8th grade. I made it. It’s your turn now.” Practically speaking, it’s a good idea for your children to begin owning their academic experience. This means while you check their homework for errors and guide thinking when possible, you do not sit down and do every single problem with them. Obviously, you don’t just throw them into the experience as a preschooler. And there may be extreme cases when children with special needs require a little extra help, but most of our kids need to learn how to manage their time and take care of their own experience during those hours before and after school.
For every household this may look a little different. It could mean your kids pack their own lunches or fix their own breakfast. Or it may mean they set out all of their clothes the night before. Perhaps they know and implement the bedtime routine on their own. Any gradual step you can implement to help your child grow and mature into a healthy human being is helpful.
Beginning in sixth grade, if my oldest daughter had questions about her work or needed extra guidance or missed a day and needed to know her assignment, I had her directly e-mail the teacher, cutting me out as the middle mom. As a high school freshman, this act now comes as second nature. In fact, sometimes I don’t even have to tell her she needs to e-mail the teacher. She just handles it. The process hasn’t been without occasional grumbling or requests of “Can you just do it?” But someday when she needs to communicate with a professor or ask her boss a question she’s now equipped to do that on her own. Ask yourself what skills you’d like your kids to have on the other side of school and begin moving them toward those goals.
Self Care Is Important, Too
About ten seconds into becoming a parent you realize, it ain’t about you any more. You have another human being who completely depends on you – for shelter, for sustenance, for a soft spot to land. It’s easy to let those pressing and unavoidable needs crush our ability to take care of ourselves.
I’m not saying you deserve a regular spa outing. I’m not saying you require three hours of “me time” every day. But for this school routine to run smoothly, you do need to take care of yourself. Again this will look different for every family and parent, but in the same way airlines require you to place an oxygen mask over your own mouth before tending to your children, you need to take care of yourself. Invest in you each day. Go for a run, read Scripture, eat a healthy meal, pray, or simply wash your face and brush your teeth. Don’t let the minutia overwhelm you.
When you care for yourself, you care for your family. You’re better prepared to handle the curveballs that come your way – because mark my words they will come your way. You’re less likely to lose your junk, unloading stress on your spouse or kids. You’re more likely to send your people out into the world whole, healthy, and even happy.
It’s essential to put good systems into place so you don’t go off your rocker a mere week or month into the school year. And maybe our expectations will always be a bit too pie in the sky. When you mess up, when you forget a paper, when someone leaves their lunchbox at home for the second time in one week, when there’s a misstep or mistake, when reality comes knocking at your door, cut yourself some slack. Yes, this is life with school-aged children. Yes, it is crazy, busy, and physically demanding. But, it’s still a good life and it will be gone far too quickly for any of our hearts to handle. You got this. Go out there and make it the best. school. year. ever. Or just make it the okayest school year ever. Whatever you do, don’t let it pass you by without paying attention to the opportunities to grow your kids and challenge yourself.
Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon details her family’s quest to eliminate over $127K in debt in just under four years. As her alter ego the Queen of Free, Cherie provides offbeat money saving tips and debt slaying inspiration on a daily basis.