If not already, pretty soon, the sunscreen-shined SUV seats will be covered in permission slips, after-school snacks and random articles of clothing shucked en route to after-school activities. The Road-Pro 12-Volt Slow Cooker you plug into your cigarette lighter will start looking good, as nanoseconds matter in the carpool relay.
So, as we prepare for the year, before we get lost in a Sharpie high, let’s get real for two minutes. I give you a few sanity-savers in shorthand:
• Expect your child will fail gloriously at least once this year. And guess what? So will you.
After selling a kidney to pay for her private tumbling lessons, your daughter may try out and not make the cheerleading squad when eight of her BFF’s do.
Your son could run for student body president and despite a $75 Sam’s Club vat of beef jerky adorned with the slogan, “Don’t be a JERK, Vote Ben for Prez!” he may lose. Using a speech you convinced him to let you tweak, no less. Yes, that will leave a mark.
Your little guy will perhaps by God’s grace squeak out a C in Chemistry, which you know full well means he will most likely not get into the college of his choosing.
You may have a toddler who is invited to leave preschool because of biting, or a 19-year-old son invited to leave the university for the same reason.
The great news? You probably will lay an egg of your own this school year.
You will go MIA: Missing the awards ceremony where your child is named student of the year. You will only remember this when your friends text you pictures after the fact. These pictures may or may not include your child with furrowed brow feverishly searching the crowd for your face.
The passion with which you volunteer to be snack mom in August outstrips your memory in November. If you do somehow miraculously remember, your snack will contain trace amounts of tree nuts, sending at least one child searching for an EpiPen. (Don’t ask me how scary this is or how I know. Snack moms everywhere: Please use caution.)
Or, the mother of all sins: You forget to submit pictures for the year-end slide show. Of course, the mom who assembles the whole shebang is certain the 14th and 39th pictures contain a forearm, ponytail or T-shirt most likely belonging to your child. Which makes everything way better.
Parents, even bringing your A game most of the time: You. Will. Seriously. Blow. It. Embrace this reality now and prepare in advance to grace yourself and your child.
• Expect your child will not be included in every single social event, and do not have a panic attack about it. Your child smells your social anxiety, don’t stink-bomb your issues on the innocent.
Barring the mean-girl phenomenon, most of the time, it is an oversight rather than a personal attack when your child is excluded. Mercifully, as kids age, their birthday parties shrink in number of participants (or else none of us would survive to grandparenthood.) With fewer children being invited, often it is a numbers game rather than an intentional affront.
Nothing ruins a weekend like seeing four of your child’s buddies piling into a car with overnight bags after school on Friday. Or even more hurtful, your child seeing the fun he is missing on Instagram. Just remember how fluid relationship dynamics are when you are 12, choose a fun activity of your own to do, and take away the phone for the night if need be. As a parent, you cannot make up for the hurt peers inflict, but you can model how to shoulder disappointment gracefully. And get a dog.
Unfortunately we parents can suffer from “PKSD,” or Post Kickball Stress Disorder, from childhood—being excluded, chosen last, and called fat, skinny, stupid or brainy. One in every 10 parents actually ate the paste in kindergarten. We all have our stuff, right?
Too often we see our kids as people kits we try to construct perfectly as better versions of ourselves. If we are honest, at times the drive to ensure our kids are included stems from our own need for acceptance.
For every child, there will come a time when they are the odd person out; such is the rhythm of life on Earth. Perhaps without that vital lesson, they would not know empathy for others. When this hurtful yet normal part of childhood occurs, train yourself to look for things in your life that are going right to thank God for. Disappointment is inevitable, but what we do with it is up to us.
• Remember: If you do this parenting gig right, you work yourself out of a job.
I was floored recently when I saw a dad coaching his daughter through the process of making a waffle at the breakfast bar. She looked to be a bright 11-year-old, engaged in conversation about the bike race they would participate in the next day.
So the father read the laminated waffle directions like he was Annie Sullivan pressing the letters W-A-T-E-R into the hand of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. She waited impishly on his every directive, insecurely followed orders and appeared afraid to fail. Chances are, this young lady was more than capable of cranking out a waffle, but she simply was not trusted with the task. We cannot expect to switch a flip at 18 and our children suddenly have great judgment when they have had limited experience using theirs. Let them burn a waffle at 11.
Envision your life in 20 years. Now envision your couch. Now envision your grown child eating your Ben & Jerry’s, watching your TV on that couch. None of us truly sees this as a beautiful outcome, do we? The thought perhaps is radical, but when we prepare the way for the child rather than the child for the way, we provide a false sense of the reality they will face.
Trust your children to handle their business as much as you possibly can. Sure, some children require more supervision than others to reach their full potential, but start small this year and curtail the hovering. It will liberate you and train your child to be more self-sufficient. To be fair, in a calm conversation, let the kids know that you expect them to be responsible for their “job”—schoolwork and extra-curriculars. Then the hard part: Let them struggle. The S-word, I know, but it is really, really important part of their growth as a person.
As Oswald Chambers said, “It is not so much that prayer changes things, but prayer changes me, and I change things.” When we pray, we release the death grip we have on something when really we have no control upon it whatsoever. Prayer transforms our vision.
Prayer is a tool for me to reach out and focus on God who lasts forever rather than my problems, which, thankfully, will not. Just silently contemplating the hugeness of God brings a breath of perspective I desperately need. When the desire to helicopter is strong, as is my desire for action, prayer is the action I need to take. It slows me down, tempers my emotion and gives me fresh eyes for the challenge at hand.
So as the summer fades from view and school hits like a monsoon, pace yourself, grace yourself, ditch the helicoptering and pray.
Jinny Henson is a speaker, wife and mother. She is a member at Church for the Highlands in Shreveport, La., and coordinates Maggie Lee for Good Day, a grassroots movement of kindness dedicated to the memory of her daughter, who died from injuries sustained in a church bus wreck in 2009. ABPnews/Herald distributed this column.