Hold on to your pencil boxes, because the Back to School season has arrived! One of the annual activities at our house this time of year involves taking stock and stocking up. Whether it’s supplies, school uniforms, or physical exams, September always seems to be the time to take an inventory of what we have, what we need, and what we can discard (we’ve currently got three working piles growing in our living room).
So in the spirit of taking stock, I’ve decided to put together another set of piles for the new school year. I’m calling them our family vision piles, based on the term coined by parent educators, Janis Keyser and Laura Davis. A family vision, they explain, is seeing the big picture of where you are going as a family, what values you want to teach and model, and determining what is most important to you. Basically, by establishing a family vision, we are setting the intentions we want for our family for the year.
So here’s what my piles look like so far:
Like the stained uniform shirts, and ripped 3 ring binders, what do I want to discard this year when it comes to our family?
- The sound and quality of my voice during times of stress. This carping, droning, (dare I say nagging?) voice, usually heard in the morning rush or frenzied afternoons of homework and practices, tends to repeat itself in 5-10 second intervals, with phrases such as, “come on,” “hurry up,” “move faster,” and “don’t forget...!” In addition to being both annoying and agitating to everyone involved, this voice and it’s shrill requests seem to become increasingly futile as time progresses.
- The myth of being a perfect supermom. I’m also going to try and discard the unrealistic expectations I have that I can control everything or do it all. And in case I needed further motivation, a recent study, cited in the Wall Street Journal under the heading, Why Supermoms are Sad, confirmed that moms who expect that a work/life balance can be achieved easily, are more unhappy that those moms who accept that they can’t do everything, and therefore trade-offs will have to be made (http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2011/08/30/why-supermoms-are-sad/).
- The blame, regret and guilt I put on myself, my family, and the world in general, when life gets stressful. Like the supermom myth above, I will work to discard these negative feelings that seem to crop up when I am most stressed, and replace them with compassion, connection, and forgiveness, remembering that we all are generally doing the best we can.
Next, what do I want to add to our family, along with the shiny new lunchboxes and shin guards this year?
- More interactive communication. I will make a conscious effort to add more interactive conversations with my boys and husband each week, with sentences beginning with, “What do you think of...,” “How was your...,” and “What are you feelings about...,” (as opposed to that nagging, directive voice I hope to discard above). My goal is to stay as connected with them as possible, even when life gets hectic.
- A weekly electronics-free time zone. This idea came to me one desperate summer afternoon in the midst of a computer game/ tv show/ web surfing binge our entire family was on. As I noticed our levels of agitation increasing with each successive sound and click coming from the machines. I desperately ordered a complete shutdown of devices and an “electronics-free” hour. Wow. After the initial caffeine-like withdrawal symptoms, a peace and calm descended upon our household that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I actually saw books cracked open, legos built, and conversations initiated!
- More time and flexibilty during rush periods. Finally, in place of that supermom mindset, I will work to add more time to prepare and organize during rush hours, as well as the flexibility and ability to let go when all doesn’t go smoothly (remembering that when my sons forget their water bottles or backpacks, the world and my competence has not suddenly come to an end)!
And finally, like the tried and true backpack my 10 year-old is using for his third consecutive year, what are the things I want to keep and continue in our family?
Those elements and activities that reflect our shared values of laughing together, slowing down when we can, nurturing ourselves and each other, and connecting in general.
Some, but not all, of the items in this pile will include:
- Family mealtimes at least 2-3 times every week (hopefully more)
- Unstructured family time, with no other commitment except hanging out
- Family movie nights with popcorn, whenever time permits
- Maintaining a sense of humor
- Continuing those activities we enjoy on our own, and together, that help us stay refueled and healthy
- Remembering an attitude of gratitude
- Breathing in, breathing out
- Letting it go
- Did I mention a sense of humor?
So that’s where I'm starting this year. Although I’m sure there will be plenty of bumps and setbacks along the way, I’m hoping that keeping my family vision in mind, will help me make the best decisions I can, in the midst of the action-packed and frenzied moments ahead. I invite you to give it a try, and share what you come up with. Here’s to a happy, reflective, and intentional school year!