Reflections on the First Day of School

first day of school

It’s just me, my computer, my water bottle and the Olympics this morning. It’s quiet for the first time in three months. The dogs are taking some well-deserved naps. I’m catching up on some neglected tasks.

It’s the first day of school here, and for the first time since the end of May, I’m looking at a calendar filled with days without my kids. I have lots of projects to work on, a house that really needs a good cleaning and work that needs to be done. But right now, for this moment, I find myself doing a bit of reflection.

This morning, I sent an eighth grader and a high school sophomore off for their first day of school. The morning was a whirlwind. Hair to be done, lunches to be made, advice to be given. But now, in these first quiet moments in months, I realize that I only have five more first days of school.

I am incredibly proud of the young women my girls are becoming, but we have left childhood behind in this house. For the first time, I sent two teenagers to school. My child who would only wear graphic T-shirts and comfy shorts has graduated to a skirt and vest. My daughter who has never liked change faced her first day of school with confidence and a smile.

So much has changed since that first day of kindergarten 10 years ago. And as we face the few years we have left with our girls, I find I treasure the time I have with them more. Don’t get me wrong, there were days this summer that I pulled out the calendar and counted the days until school started. But, mostly, this year, I found myself enjoying the days of summer without the distraction of school or sports. And, so, I find myself a bit sad to see school start this year.

As I reflect on our summer and this first day of school, though, I wanted to share this: Whether it’s your first first day of school or your last, take a long look at your kids and savor who they are in this moment. Because who they are in this moment may be part of who they are in the future, but they will never be this particular person again.

Whether you’re in an easy season with your kids or a difficult one, take a moment today to thank God for who they are today. Identify the traits that your kids have that are positive and thank God for each one.

And, dear mommas, savor this moment here at the beginning of the school year. Because these moments fly by, and as excited as we are to see our kids becoming who God wants them to be, we can’t recapture the moments once they’re gone.

5 Things Your Middle-Schooler Needs

middle school

I have two daughters in middle school, and I have to tell you, this middle school thing is tough. From the social to the academic to swimming in PE, there’s more drama in one day than I need in a lifetime.

As my daughters work their way through middle school, I’m reminded that while so many things in this world have changed, middle school has not. In fact, I think the addition of social media and constant text interaction have made it even more difficult.

Middle school is a tough time for kids. Bodies are changing. Hormones are raging. Teachers expect more. Parents expect more. Friendships are harder. It can be tough to fit in.

So, what is it our kids need as they traverse the trails of middle school? It can be tempting to try to step in and right all the wrongs for them. It can be even more tempting to constantly nag them into doing their chores and homework. It can be tough not to constantly argue with them. But what our kids need most in these years of change is to know that some things are constant.

So, here are five things your middle-schooler needs from you.

1. They need to know that they are loved unconditionally. They need to be reminded often that you love them no matter what their grades are, who their friends are or how well they clean their room. They need to know that your love is constant and unchanging. They need to be reminded frequently that God made them and loves them just as they are. They need a living, breathing reminder of Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

So much of middle school social life is based on doing the right thing with the right people. Your place in the social hierarchy is determined by the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with, the grades you get and the activities you participate in. Our kids need to know that our love and God’s love don’t depend on those things. We love them simply for who they are.

2. They need a safe place. Our kids spend so much of their time at school trying to be who they think other people want them to be that they need a safe place where they can just be themselves. Middle school is an in-between age. These kids are caught in the neverland between childhood and being a teenager. They often aren’t sure if they want to be a kid who plays with toys or a teenager interested in clothes and movies. They need us to create an environment at home where it’s OK for them to be either one. They need one place in their lives where it’s safe to just be who they are in that moment.

3. They need wisdom. The problems of a middle-schooler can seem trivial in the light of our adult world, but we have to remember that 40 years of perspective is a lot more than 11 or 13. It’s important for us to remember that our kids’ problems are big to them. Whether it’s struggling with homework or a difficult relationship with a friend, those problems loom large in their lives. We need to be there to offer wisdom and encouragement. We need to help them find solutions to what may seem like trivial problems. We need to teach them to seek out God’s wisdom to help them solve their problems. The problem-solving skills they learn today on what may seem like small problems are the same skills they’ll use to solve the big ones later in life.

4. They need fun. Kids today are often living lives that are so scheduled and regimented that there’s little time for fun. Our kids need us to make time to have fun. Whether it’s a spontaneous trip to the movies, an impromptu sleepover with a friend, or a Saturday hike through the woods, we need to remember what it’s like to laugh and have fun together. As our kids learn about themselves and start looking for more independence, we often find ourselves at loggerheads with them. To counteract those moments, we have to be deliberate in creating some fun moments with our kids as well.

5. They need to be pushed. Often our preteens don’t like to step outside their own comfort zone. However, sometimes, they need a little push to try something new or to make a new friend. It’s not easy to try something new or to do something on your own. Our kids need to know that we want them to have new experiences and that it’s OK to try something and fail. Sometimes the experience is worth it even if you’re not very good at it. When we give our kids a push, though, they also need to know that we’re going to be there to catch them if they fall.

Parenting tweens and teens, especially middle-schoolers is hard. It’s tough to find a balance that works for everyone. It can often seem like we spend more time at odds with our kids than we do enjoying them. But that’s OK. As long as we remember that our kids are simply trying to figure out who they want to be and are trying desperately to navigate the murky waters of these years, we can provide the things they need.

Let Grace Be Their Strength

Grace3

So, I wrote about offering our kids grace yesterday. Funny thing. Apparently, God was talking to me.

My younger daughter made the transition to middle school this year. After five years in elementary school and a year of homeschool, she walked into the doors of our local middle school.

She’s made the transition remarkably well. She’s had the usual middle school issues of finding her classes and dealing with a finicky locker, but she’s been mostly organized and managed her assignments well. Until yesterday.

Last night, she discovered she did not know where her social studies homework was. Hopefully, it’s in her locker. If it’s not, she’ll have to take the late work penalty.

I have to admit that I was frustrated with her. Late work in the first couple weeks of school is not a good way to make an impression on your teacher. I really wanted to lecture and let her know how frustrated I was.

But then I remembered yesterday’s blog post. I remembered that this is a huge transition for my daughter. I remembered that she had traveled all weekend to play in a hockey tournament. I remembered that we all make mistakes. And I remembered that sometimes making a mistake is the best way to learn.

You see, this is my daughter who when she was little had to touch the hot pan to believe that it was hot. This is my daughter who has always taken the hard way. This is my daughter who needs the pain of the consequences to appreciate the magnitude of the mistake.

So instead of lecturing last night, I helped her problem solve. We tried to find the worksheet in the online system the school has for assignments. Not there. We tried calling some friends she has in the class to get the questions. No one home. We tried emailing her teacher. No response.

I sent a very frustrated young lady to bed knowing that she would have to take the point deduction for late work. But, you know what? I bet tonight she comes home with all her homework. I bet that she’s super careful about writing down her homework and making sure it’s in her binder in the future.

Because this one experience has taught her more than all the lecturing in the world could teach her. Offering grace from the parent point of view, offering a hug and encouragement, instead of heaping lectures on top of her already hurting heart didn’t take away the consequences of her mistake. That grace, though, gave her the courage to get out of the car this morning and head into the school to face her mistakes.

Because grace doesn’t wipe out our mistakes. It doesn’t do away with the earthly consequences. But grace and love on the magnitude that God provides, gives us the strength to get up in the morning and face the day. When we pour just a small portion of that grace out onto our kids, it does the same for them. They get bolstered not just by God’s grace but by God’s grace given through their parents. And sometimes that’s all they need to have the courage to put one foot in front of the other.

So, the next time our kids make a mistake, we need to let experience be their teacher and let grace be their strength.

Grace for the Changes

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There’s not been a lot happening in this space the past two weeks. School started. Schedules shifted, and we’ve all been trying to adjust to the new normal that is the school year. Despite having more time alone, it’s been difficult to slot blogging into the new schedule.

When the school year rolls around, it can be tough to get back into the swing of things. It can be difficult to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there. In the past two weeks, I’ve taken a child to practice at the wrong time, forgotten a breakfast date with a friend and struggled to get my kids out the door on time most mornings. Each time I forgot something or got the time wrong, I felt bad.

Switching from a relaxed summer schedule to the school year one is hard. It takes a while for everyone to get used to the new routine — including us moms. It takes a few weeks to settle into the new normal, and we need to give ourselves and everyone around us some grace until the new normal simply becomes normal.

However, our tendency is often to beat ourselves up when we make a mistake in the schedule. We get impatient when our children or spouses don’t immediately jump on the bandwagon of new practice times, new school times and new dinner times. We get frustrated when our kids don’t remember everything they should from the last school year. We get annoyed when our new schedule doesn’t work like we think it should.

Especially when making the switch from summer to school year, we need grace — for our families and for ourselves. Grace is a wonderful and amazing thing. It overlooks the shortcomings of others. It lets us love each other despite our failings. It makes us feel whole even when we screw up. But to offer grace to ourselves and our families, we have to be filled up with God’s grace — every day.

God offers His grace to us all the time. He never runs out. It’s always available. All we have to do is accept it. All we have to do is let it fill us up until we’re overflowing with it. Because I don’t have enough grace to give for all the mistakes and frustrations found in the switch to the school-year schedule. But God does. All I have to do is tap into it.

So, as you make the switch from summertime to school days, remember to include grace in that switch. Remember it takes time to get it all figured out. Remember that God gives you grace every day so that you can offer it to others.

A First Day of School Prayer

School 2014

I dropped both my girls off at middle school this morning for their first full day of school. I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I have a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader. I love the fact that they are growing up into beautiful, compassionate young ladies, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I miss the little girls they once were.

As they head off to school this year, here’s what I’m praying for them.

A First Day of School Prayer

My precious children,

You’re growing up so quickly. I look at you standing there proud and tall in your carefully chosen first-day-of-school outfit, and I see the little girls that just yesterday I dropped off at kindergarten for the first time. Now, we’re starting and finishing middle school. I love you both so much and can’t wait to see what God has in store for you. Here’s what I’m praying for you this year.

I pray:

That your locker would open on the first try.

That you would find and foster true friendships.

That you would be yourself.

That you would always know that you are never alone and God is walking the hallways with you.

That you would learn new things and have new adventures.

That you would make wise choices based on the things God thinks are important, not the things your friends think are important.

That you would laugh often.

That you would have teachers who inspire you to work harder and dream bigger.

That you would love others and show kindness and compassion to everyone you meet.

That you would encourage those around you.

That you would find a subject that sparks the imagination and challenges you.

That you would be a light in the darkness of this imperfect world.

That you would never be afraid to stand up for what’s right.

That you would be a champion of those who are weaker than you.

That you would live fully and enjoy the abundant life that God promises you.

That no matter how tough the day, how harsh the words, that you would know you are loved.

Encouraging Our Kids to Be Themselves

be yourself

I took my younger daughter shopping for school clothes yesterday. It’s always a process to take her shopping. She’s so petite that it’s difficult to find clothes that she likes that fit.

Up to this point, she’s been a T-shirt kind of girl, but she’s headed off to middle school this year. At one point yesterday, she asked me “Is this what everyone is wearing?” And my heart broke just a little bit.

You see, this is my child who has always marched to the beat of her own drum. This is my child who has never really cared what those around her think. This is my child who has always dared to be different.

But she suffers from the same thoughts that plague us all. Am I going to fit in? Will people like me? What if I’m different?

A little bit of fitting in is fine. We all need to fit in to some degree, but if we let those questions become the guiding light of our lives and our kids’ lives, then we lose a little something of ourselves. We lose little something of who God made us and our kids to be.

Because the truth is that God didn’t make our kids so they would “fit in.” He made each one of them to be fantastically and uniquely them. He made each one of them in His image, but He did it in such a way that they are made in the image of no other person on earth.

Too often, I do a terrible job of encouraging my kids to be themselves. I worry about whether they fit in instead of encouraging them to follow their own path. Instead of rejoicing in who they are, I see other kids and wonder why they can’t be more like that other child.

God tells us that each person is “fearfully and wonderfully made” and “God’s workmanship.” He tells us He has plans for us. He tells us that we are loved. Yet so often we ignore those words and focus on how we’re different from those around us. We focus on the moments where we don’t fit in.

Here’s the thing, though, when we try to fit in, when we try to fit into a mold that wasn’t used to make us, we only find ourselves miserable. We hide who we truly are for the opinion or approval of people who don’t matter. And I think that must make God sad.

Instead of trying to force ourselves or our kids into a copycat mold of what society says is acceptable, we need to be aware of what God says is acceptable. We need to be examples for our kids of people who care more about what God thinks than we do about what others think. And we need to encourage them to do the same.

We need to encourage our kids to make decisions based on who God made them to be and the path that God has asked them to walk. And we need to remember that those decisions might be different even from what we would choose. Because our kids aren’t made in our image either. God’s calling for them might be different than what we would choose for them. But it’s not our job to choose for them; it’s our job to guide them to make the choices that God has for them.

So as we embark on the new school year, put some focus on helping your kids become the people that God created them to be — fearfully and wonderfully made creations who are the image of Him.

School Decisions

sharing

We’re on our last week of school here, and I know a lot of moms who are thinking about their school options for next year. I know homeschool moms who are struggling with whether to send their kids to public school next year, and I know public school moms who are thinking about homeschooling.

No matter the decision to be made, though, there’s a common thread in all of these conversations — guilt. As these moms struggle to decide what the best option for their kids is, each mom feels as if their decision might fail their child. Or they feel like the decision they made for this year finishing up has been a failure.

And you know what? Whatever community they are currently a part of generally isn’t helping. Having one child in public school this year and one child doing school at home has given me a foot in both worlds. It’s given me an opportunity to see both sides of the story and be a part of both communities. What I’ve discovered is that in both communities, public school and homeschool, there’s very little tolerance for the other choice. Everyone is convinced that their choice is the best and when someone dares to suggest that they are thinking about a different option, that person is immediately flooded with opinions about why a change might be wrong.

Whether your child is in public school, private school or homeschool, it doesn’t mean that your choice is the best for everyone. It simply means that the decisions that you’ve made are the ones that you think are best for your child. Sharing your story with someone else is helpful when trying to make a decision. Sharing your judgment of a different decision is not.

We’re told over and over again in the Bible to not judge others. We haven’t walked a mile in their shoes. We don’t know what it’s like. You might think someone else’s child would benefit from being homeschooled, but you have no idea what the parent/child relationship looks like behind closed doors. You don’t know the financial situation. You don’t know whether that would cause hardship or frustration.

By the same token, you might think that someone else’s child would do better in public school, but you don’t know how that child learns. You may not know the reasons behind him being homeschooled in the first place. You may not know anything about the public school that child would attend.

Instead of dishing out judgment on other people’s school choices, we need to be handing out encouragement and gratitude. We need to be thankful that we have these options available to us. We need to remember that not every kid and every family is the same. We need to build each other up instead of tearing each other down.

As parents make school decisions for next year, let’s all be supportive of those choices. We don’t have to understand all the reasons behind them. We do need to hold our judgment and offer our encouragement.

Finding Common Ground in the Homeschool vs. Public School Debate

homeschool

This year, I have a foot firmly planted in two schooling worlds. My older daughter attends public school, and we’re homeschooling my younger one. It’s an adventure, and it’s given me an interesting perspective on how the two sets of people involved in each choice view the other.

I’ve discovered there’s a lot of judgment involved on both sides. Some public schoolers think that homeschoolers are raising awkward, sheltered kids who can’t function in the real world. Some homeschoolers think that public schoolers are corrupted by the world and that public school is only full of horrible things.

But here’s the thing: Why are we so busy judging someone else’s choice, especially when it comes to school? I honestly think that Christ-followers are some of the worst offenders here. Instead of being thankful that we have options when it comes to schooling, we think that whatever we choose to do is the best option and are unable to see the benefits of the other option.

We chose to homeschool my younger daughter this year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done for her. She needed the one-on-one attention and the opportunity to build her character in ways we couldn’t accomplish in public school. We chose to send my older daughter to public school. It’s been a good year for her, too. She’s grown socially and mastered some social skills that we simply couldn’t have accomplished at home.

There’s no one right way to educate your kids. The Bible doesn’t say homeschool your kids. It also doesn’t say to send your kids to public school. What it does say is “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We can do that in the context of homeschooling or in the context of public school.

No matter what type of schooling we choose for our kids, it’s important to understand that others have good reasons for choosing a different option. Your kids are not their kids. When we make snap judgments about someone else’s school choices, we do ourselves and our kids a disservice. It’s almost as if by judging others we’re justifying our own decisions. And there’s no need for that. If we’ve prayed about our decision and chosen the best option for our own kids, then we don’t have to justify it to anyone else by denigrating someone else’s choice. Our reasons can stand alone without comparing them to someone else’s choices.

If we all focused on simply providing the best education we can for our kids, whether it’s at home or at school, we would find that we all have a lot more common ground to stand on than when we focus on the differences in our choices.

10 Things I’ve Learned in the First Week of School

10 things

It’s the end of the first full week of school. I don’t know if my girls have learned anything, but I have learned a lot. Here’s just a few things I’ve learned this week.

1. 5:30 is really early, but it’s worth it to get up and have an hour to myself before anyone else gets up. I won’t make it through the weeks ahead without starting my day with a little quiet time with God. Those silent, stolen moments with Him are the thing that help me hold onto my patience and frustration during a day gone bad. Those stolen moments of solitude are what keep me going when all I want to do is take a nap. I am, however, considering taking up coffee-drinking.

2. If you’re home all day, every day, the dog will follow you around and nap wherever you are. And he snores.

3. I didn’t know nearly as much about my younger daughter’s learning style as I thought I did. A week of being her only teacher has me scrambling to truly understand the unique way my daughter learns. Getting a better understanding of how God made her has been a blessing of this first week but has left me redoing lesson plans left and right.

4. Getting back into the school and sports schedule is hard. I miss my summertime nights where the family sat down to dinner together almost every night, followed by games of horse or some shared TV time. The school year has its own rhythm, but we haven’t found it yet.

5. Sending my older daughter to camp this summer was the best decision we ever made. She came back more confident in who she is and who God is. She’s probably the best equipped she’s ever been to handle the social challenges that come with school. We’ve been back to school for more than a week, and we haven’t shed a single tear over school, yet.

6. I still don’t like to cook dinner.

7. Lists and schedules can help order the day. I still hate making lists, but I’ve found that for this week, at least, they’re the only thing making sure I don’t forget something.

8. Not every day is going to be great — some days don’t even break the good mark — but God is there even in the midst of the bad days.

9. Sometimes you just need to take a break. The back porch is my new refuge. Fifteen minutes with a book, a game on my phone, or in prayer in the middle of the day is enough to get me through the afternoon.

10. Some weeks your house is just going to be messy. Figuring out the work, school and sports schedules this week has been hard enough. Trying to add housecleaning to the mix would have sent me over the edge. I’ve done the bare minimum, but this weekend we’ll be having a house-cleaning party. I know my kids will love it.

The first week of school has brought a lot of learning to our home, but I think I’ve learned the most. Here’s hoping that next week, I can learn some more.

The Fourth Day of School

abandon

We’re on our fourth day of school, and my older daughter is having a great year. My younger daughter and I are still trying to work out the kinks. Much as I would love to tell you that these first few days of homeschooling have been amazing, they haven’t been. We’ve had tears two out of the three days. Yesterday left me wondering if I can do this for a whole year.

Four days into the school year, and I’m exhausted. I have a stack of work that needs to be done, the fish bowl needs to be cleaned, and I’m wondering if I’ll ever get more than half an hour a day to myself ever again.

I knew this would be tough. I knew it would be a huge adjustment for both my daughter and me. I even expected the tears and the exhaustion. But I had hoped it would be different. I had hoped it would be an amazing time for both of us. Maybe that time is coming. And maybe it’s not. It may be that this year will be a constant struggle for both of us. It may be that we’ll struggle for a while to find a rhythm.

I would prefer that it not be that way. I would prefer that we both come out of this year with a newfound attitude and appreciation for what we can accomplish together. I would prefer not to be exhausted all year.

But, here’s the thing. Some things that God calls us to do don’t come easy. They don’t come with the promise of an earthly reward. They don’t come with a guarantee that everyone will be happy. The only promise those tough things come with is that God will be with us every step of the way, he will provide the strength to get us through.

I know that if God has called us to do something, then He’s going to provide everything we need to get through the moment, the day, the week, the year. He’s not going to call us to do something and then abandon us.

He didn’t call the Israelites to leave Egypt and then leave them in the middle of the desert. He was there in a cloud of smoke every day and a pillar of fire every night. He didn’t call Gideon to fight the Philistine army with 300 men, and then say, “You’re on your own.” He didn’t call Paul to spread the gospel far and wide and then leave him to rot in jail by himself. God went with those men every step of the way, even when Paul’s life ended in persecution.

Some of Jesus’ last words were to tell us that we would never be alone. Matthew 28:20 says “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That applies to us today just as much as it applied to the disciples more than 2,000 years ago.

So, if today you find yourself in a situation that is tough, if you’re walking a rocky path that you know God has called you to, remember that God is with you. He didn’t call you here to abandon you. And if your kids are walking a tough road, one you know God called them to walk, remind them that God is walking there with them.

Things might not always go as we planned, but if we are following God’s direction, then we don’t have to face it alone.