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Relieved. More than ready. Eager to have someone else occupy their children day in and day out. That’s how many parents probably feel about the beginning of another school year. But despite an unusually long summer, I, for one, am dreading the start of school.

I admit to feeling different now than before I worked outside the home. Then, I was more ready for school to start. But even then, I was beginning to understand what I had been told years earlier by a mother about five years ahead of me on the parental learning curve, something which at the time had mystified me.

What she said was that she was sorry—did I hear that right?—for summer to be ending, and that she was not looking forward to the start of school.

At the time, I wondered what kind of a nut she was. But now I can see it. I can relate to a two-fold desire: to prolong the relative family ease of summer days and evenings and to postpone the intensity of the school calendar.

With children a bit older, I now understand the rigor of nightly homework, which requires as much work on the part of the parents as the children. Beyond regular assignments are preparation for quizzes and tests and–more often than one would like–the dreaded school project.

On top of homework are sports—both practices and games—and an unending list of other after-school and evening activities. When school is on, children ought to get to bed at a decent time. But first, they pretty much need to bathe every day, not to mention eating supper.

When all involved parents work, it’s tough to get a jump on children’s weekday obligations until early evening. Often, there is simply too much to squeeze into the hours available. The result? Fatigue, tension, diminished quantity and quality of family time—all of which can make for a generalized sense of stress punctuated by moments of intense frustration.

My children need to be back in school, and I really support the instruction and programming offered there. But I wish there could be a less jolting difference between the relative leisure of summer and the craziness of the school year. (There’s always home schooling, but that’s a whole other subject.)

As parents stand on the brink of yet another school year I wonder what, if anything, we can do to make things better this time around.

I have no easy answers, but I can offer myself and others a seed to plant in parental minds and hearts. Let’s consider what really counts: What do you and your family value? What priorities do you want to live out in your home? What positive family and individual experiences do you think will stay with your child on into the future? Let’s invest a little more time in those pursuits this year. Maybe one fewer activity—for child or adult—this new year. Maybe one more family dinner each week. Maybe the freedom to skip a practice once in a while to allow for something more important.

I’m not against extracurricular activities that nourish and challenge young bodies, minds and spirits. But many of us are afraid of our children not doing it all. We don’t want to be the cause of them missing out on some wonderful, life-shaping opportunity. We don’t seem to worry nearly as much about them missing out on time with the family or a good night’s sleep.

And I have to ask one more thing: What would Jesus (who had no schools or sports or children with which to be concerned) do? I can’t say, but I want to be asking that question of myself a little more often this school year—and listening for the answer.

By giving myself this “priority pep talk” before everything hits the fan this fall, I hope to recognize opportunities along the way to simplify my family’s school nights. I hope to personally chill a bit and learn to give us all a little more breathing space, a little more room to enjoy life and each other on the school-year journey—one small step at a time. I hope to maintain a more positive attitude based on genuine priorities that I choose, as opposed to those imposed by schools, teachers, coaches or some middle-class image of busyness I might have bought into.

No, it won’t be summer much longer. The rhythms of the seasons are changing. And that’s not all bad, I realize, as I’m moving (like many school children) from dread to acceptance. With the changes, I find there can be a renewed sense of gratitude. Perhaps you can join me in being grateful for these same things in your life—children, a fun and safe summer, and weekends!

Karen Zurheide is executive director of Positive Tomorrows, a center providing support services for children and youth facing family life challenges.

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