Back to school: 3 thoughts for parents

Photo by arztsamui. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by arztsamui. Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

By now, for most American families with school-age kids, summer vacation is over. If you’re one of those parents, you may have a mix of feelings, from regret to relief. Whatever the reaction, the school schedule probably feels like a more familiar routine than summer.

But think back to when you were in school; as a kid, some parts of it were anything but routine. Every year you had to contend with something new: new teachers, new classes, sometimes even new schools. Social groups kept shifting, and friends came and went.

Sure, school was about learning, about stuffing your head full of facts and ideas. But you’ve probably forgotten much of what you learned. What do you really remember most about school? I’m betting a lot of it has to do with relationships.

There was that kid who just wouldn’t leave you alone, but also that loyal friend who stuck up for you. There was someone you thought was your friend, and who…well, turned out not to be. There was the teacher or coach who believed in you and encouraged you — and there were those that made your life miserable. You still shudder when you think of them.

Through it all, you were trying to figure out who you were, who you wanted to be, where you fit in — and possibly even what it meant to be a child of God and a follower of Jesus Christ in such an up-and-down environment as school.

Remember? Depending on their age, that’s a lot of what your kids are going back to. Some of it’s good, and some of it isn’t. And the stuff that isn’t? You can’t always fix it for them. Nor should you: they have to figure some things out for themselves.

But as a Christian, what can you do? First of all, and most obviously, pray for your kids (and while you’re at it, pray for each other’s kids!). I don’t necessarily mean praying in a panic for God’s protection, as if they were being thrown into the lion’s den. But pray unceasingly that your kids would cling to God as they try to find their way through the maze.

Second, be an example to your children of what it means to be faithful in the midst of life’s uncertainties. You have your own struggles and doubts, along with your joys. Let them see what you do in the ups and downs; let them hear how you think and pray. You can try to just tell your kids how to live; that might seem simpler. But here’s the deal: if they don’t see it in you, it won’t stick.

And third: most of us as parents probably need to learn to talk less and listen more. After all, if your kids were struggling with something, if they really needed your help (and you might be surprised to find out what they’re wrestling with even now), you’d want them to come to you, right? Well, they probably won’t — not if they think you aren’t really going to listen or try to understand what life looks like through their eyes. And that’s especially true if they don’t feel safe telling you things that might upset you.

So pray, be a faithful example, and learn to listen with patience and empathy. Welcome to the adventure of another school year.