It’s a big day here. My daughter starts Year 12 and my son starts Kindy. It’s his first day and her ‘last’ first day. And I’m starting all over again… a decade and a bit older and with a list of things I’m not doing this time around as a “School Parent”:
Going to everything or feeling guilty about not going to everything
Assembly items, certificate-giving in assemblies, athletics carnivals, cross-country carnivals, swimming carnivals, choir performances, band concerts, team sport carnivals, multi-cultural classroom festivals, eisteddfods, discos, socials, meet-and-greet mornings, committee meetings, literacy groups, numeracy groups, journal-writing groups, end-of-school concerts, mid-year concerts, Easter-concerts, Christmas services, school anniversary celebrations, fetes, fundraisers, learning journey’s, parent-teacher interviews, parent information nights, canteen duty, P&C meetings, working bees, excursions, district carnivals, national carnivals, international carnivals, graduation assemblies, graduation dinners, graduation concerts, formals…
Having run myself ragged to get to ‘all the things’ (or as many as possible) when my girls first started school (even if their dad was also there), my husband and I will tell our son at the beginning that it’s not possible to come to everything. We’ll talk about which events mean the most to him, and focus on those. It’s easier to set realistic expectations early on, than to cause disappointment later when it becomes unfeasible to attend everything. Which brings me to Point #2…
Being the parent representative
I don’t mean the elected parent rep for the classroom. I mean the assumed (or self-appointed) parent rep from our household. Thirteen years is a very long time. As it was with my first two kids and their dad, this is our child. Supporting him through his education at school events, parent-teacher meetings, performances and with his homework are shared responsibilities. It’s not just about teaching our son what being a parent of any gender looks like, it’s about parents helping to change workplace culture.
That said, all the pressure doesn’t come externally. It’s also about letting go, allowing the other parent (if there’s one present) or other families to put their hands up, and taking responsibility for your own boundaries. (For all of high school, my daughters’ dad has lived in a different state. I learned through exhaustion that I could still only do the work of one parent and had to say ‘no’ in some cases.)
Getting overly involved in projects
If he comes home in Year 2 with an assignment to build a working axle (to use a particularly torturous example from the past) he’ll be returning to school with an axle that looks like it was made by a seven-year-old—not one that looks like it was whipped up in the industrial workshop by a mechanic. I’ll sit with him, ask questions and help him with tricky bits, but won’t make the thing myself (unlike the children’s book I ‘helped’ my daughter write when she was in Kindergarten which, looking back now, I could pretty much submit to a publisher under my name without any plagiarism concerns. It’s quicker and easier to intervene, and frustrating sometimes to stand back, but necessary for their development).
Having too many extra-curricular activities
Swimming is essential, everything else is optional and doesn’t have to be done all at once. If he comes to loathe something, we’ll talk about what ‘giving up’ means, and about his reasons, but won’t persist doggedly for no good reason. (Flashback to when my parents walked in at the end of my sister’s piano lesson to find her sitting backwards on the piano stool, arms crossed, point blank refusing to participate.) There will be plenty of time to play, chill out on the iPad and ‘do nothing’.
Sarcastically awarding myself ‘Mother of the Year’ whenever I drop something
Maybe when it’s my watch I’ll forget it’s library or lose the permission note or send him to school in uniform on the uniform-free day, or forget book week or leave his lunch in the fridge. There’ll be no holding myself to an impossible standard of perfection for the next thirteen years, and no self flagellation for being ‘human’. Been there, done that, and found out kids benefit from seeing their parent make mistakes, sometimes.
Doesn’t matter what level reader he’s on, or what level the others are on, as long as he’s moving in the right direction.
Stepping in too early to help with social issues
When something’s amiss in the playground it can be heart-wrenching to stand back and watch your child learn to sort it out themselves, but often that’s exactly what is needed (at least as a first step). It’s how they learn to deal with social challenges and difficult situations, and how they experiment with standing up for themselves and being diplomatic and compassionate. Equally, if something does need to be raised with the teacher, it’s important to do that.
Dreading the teen years
Of all the stages, having teenagers have been my favourite, and that goes for my girls and my two older step-children, who I knew as teens. Of course there are challenges, and there is ALL THE DRIVING, but this is the stage I’ll miss most. I’ll look forward to it this time around.
Somewhere along the way, I experimented with a whole semester of not ironing the school uniforms at all. My daughter’s school report that semester claimed she was ‘always immaculately presented’ and in the intervening years I’ve ironed so little I can barely remember how to use the appliance.
Wanting to get off the treadmill
There were so many times I’d stand at the kitchen bench and sigh at the sight of lunch-boxes, or excursion notes or (later) emails with an essay to read through. Now we’re starting a year of ‘lasts’. Last first day. Last carnival. Last time in winter uniform. Last exam. Last day of school…
I’ll blink, and my little boy will be towering over me and talking about his gap year, the way his sister is. The days are long but the years really are short, and I’ll try to hold that thought close.