I know it’s Labor Day and everyone (in the US at least) has a three-day weekend. But the girls have been in school for a month now and it’s constantly on my mind. We’ve had parent/teacher conferences, a PTO meeting (which, despite my intention to participate this year, I had to skip because of a schedule conflict), and plenty of homework.
This is what we do now. It’s becoming routine.
But I want to be sure our routine isn’t routine just because we defaulted to it. Just because it’s the easiest thing to do.
Confession: for a while, my kids were in a habit of watching Netflix immediately after school. They knew I’d let them watch up to three episodes after school, so they’d do that right away. And I would play on my phone or read. We mostly ignored each other till almost four o’clock every afternoon. It was easy.
I realized, though, that I was missing a critical moment. That transition from school to home is an opportunity to connect in a way that is available during few other moments. They’re tired but still have that bouncy right-after-school energy. They’re brimming with a whole day of experiences. It’s a weird tension between excitement and calming down, which makes it the perfect time for me to listen as they unpack their day.
When they say hi to me and immediately go veg out on the couch, I miss the chance to hear about the best + worst parts of the day. Given a little time to decompress and process, they tell different stories than they would when the thoughts are still fresh. If I ask shortly after they walk in the door, they blurt out whatever is on their mind. It’s fascinating! And if I wait too long, they’ve either forgotten or don’t care anymore, and it’s just not the same.
They can focus better on their homework when we pull it out right away. Maybe because they’re still slightly in a school state of mind. But even if they don’t have homework, when we postpone screen time for even a little while, they’re far more likely to start an imaginative game or work on a creative project, and then they forget about watching a movie completely.
No matter how we use it, that first half hour after school feels like a valuable window of time, and I don’t want to waste it.
But that’s harder for me than I like to admit. Sometimes when they come home, I’m just not ready to be a fully present, engaged mother, and I’d rather they go watch a movie and give me some time alone. Because even though the girls have been gone all day, Ryan has (usually) been three inches from my side the whole time. It’s draining.
When they come home, he shifts his orbit to his sisters and I feel like I can breathe.
Maybe there’s a way to give myself 20 minutes alone to prepare for the after school whirlwind. I’m not sure how that would work.
Until I figure it out, I’ll keep trying to make that transitional moment after school a positive, meaningful one. I just have to remember that parenting is a long game, and doing hard things now will pay off later. Because the easy, comfortable thing isn’t always the best way to create an environment of connection and growth.
And I really want those things for all of us.
(Call me in six years and we’ll see if I’m seeing any return from this investment. Here’s hoping, right?)