I recently saw a cartoon that compared and contrasted a young man’s first day of kindergarten to his first day of college. In the first frame, the child was hugging a tree and yelling, “I don’t want to go!” while the mom tugged at her son, trying to ensure he made the bus. The second frame showed the same yard, same tree, same mom, but with a grown child walking to a car at the curb, packed to the gills for a trek to college. The mom was running after her son and yelling, “I don’t want you to go!” Talk about a contrast.
As a parent of grown children, I get this. School changes a lot of things for not only kids, but also entire families. Whether it’s preschool or a year to study abroad, when our children leave our homes and begin to spend the bulk of their days with others, from classmates to instructors, we face times of transition.
When thinking of what our kids faced in heading back to school, my wife and I always relied on the theory that we all, in a sense, were going back to school. Other than our first son’s first day of kindergarten, when my wife hauled our younger two sons with her to stake out a spot across the street from the playground in order to spy on the oldest boy to make sure all was well, we typically haven’t gone to school with our kids. But, in addition to the physical backpacks and supplies our kids carry, they take with them a figurative backpack, one we have helped them pack for their entire lives. More important than the right pencils, paper, flash drives, and markers are the right behaviors, attitudes and overall life management skills. As we help our children choose and pack the right supplies, we also have to keep in mind that they are constantly watching us pack and unpack our own “backpacks.” The modeling, the investment of time, the love, all of these things contribute to that “little voice” of ours that gets to go back to school with our kids.
In the hustle and bustle of the back to school rush, remember that the effects of transition trickle both down and up in a family. While parents and grandparents readily admit feeling these effects, we often overlook the fact that siblings are also affected. When our eldest went off to kindergarten, our younger two had a hard time understanding why their big brother wasn’t around to play with throughout the day. Likewise, when our eldest went of to university, the younger two had a hard time settling into a routine in a home that seemed “weird” without their big brother around.
Back to school or off to school, whatever you call it, is a transitional time in life we all face as parents and families, sometimes on an annual basis. Some of us will experience the phenomenon for years to come. Take heart and remember, while you are out rummaging through the college-ruled paper bin looking for wide ruled paper, you can also work at filling that figurative backpack. Whether kindergarten or college, our kids need us to “go with them.”