A: “It’s going to be a real change around here.” If that isn’t the understatement of the past nearly two years, I don’t know what is.
You have a middle-schooler and a high-schooler, and my anecdotal takeaway after helping numerous parents throughout the pandemic is loud and clear: Every child has suffered, but tweens and teens have suffered dearly.
Everywhere I look, there are articles with tips for these kids and their families, with topics such as easing back into school, lessening back-to-school anxiety and communicating with tweens and teens. These lists are full of awesome information, and I encourage you to find some and see what speaks to you. Sometimes, one practical tool or encouraging statement can click for you and make parenting a little easier. For instance, I suggest you start holding family meetings where you create weekly schedules, and top it off with a little treat. I also suggest you co-create rewards around homework and the transition of leaving the house. (Yes, I am totally okay with some rewards after the shutdowns.) And allow them to choose more responsibilities around the house, because, the truth is: Your children aren’t little.
You cannot force them to do or feel anything, so you are in the business of getting their buy-in, of helping them to get their engines going again. If the past almost two years have taught me anything, it’s that physics in our lives and our teens’ lives is real: An object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object not in motion . . . well, you get it. Our tweens and teens have not been in motion for a long time.
We have to dance the fine line of providing enough structure to help our kids feel supported and safe, while also keeping our expectations in check.
So, how do you soothe reentry? First, post the word “gentle” everywhere your eyes may land. Physical notes, reminders in your phone, you name it. Try to remember to be gentle when you prod about homework or ask the dreaded parenting question, “How was school?” Many of our tweens and teens will feel as if their nervous systems are blown out by the return to school, so staying gentle will lead to giving more space and grace to your children.
Keep your expectations low and your encouragements high. I know the American way is to plow through tough times and keep achieving, no matter what, but you may want to readjust what homework and transitions look like. Get prepared for being late, get prepared for tantrums about homework and tech, and keep finding small wins to keep morale high. I am not suggesting that you let every expectation go; I am instead asking that you look at your tween and teen and put yourself in their shoes. What kind of parent would you want during this time? How would you want your parents to make you feel?
Just as there are plenty of articles about helping your children, there are plenty about self-care for parents, too. Self-care has become one of those phrases that has lost all meaning, so let’s put it this way: You have to treat yourself as you would a dear friend. Patience only manifests when one is rested. Humor is only found when you can see the absurdity of life instead of feeling hijacked by it. Calmness only comes when you are well-fed and you move your body. This isn’t rocket science; this is Being Human 101.
Set yourself up for success by having your team in your corner; create a text chain of friends who will laugh with you, support you and cry into coffee with you. It will save your family from your worries and help you to realize that others are in a similar boat.
Finally, cultivate and plan joy for the family whenever possible. Having something to look forward to is important, so use family meetings to create ideas that will make everyone smile (or at least not grimace). Take one day at a time. Good luck.