As a parent, I’ve always found the end of the school year to be a mixed bag. It can be an exciting time to look forward to summer plans and the relaxation, fun and family time they portend. It can offer meaningful rituals and warm celebrations with family and friends. It can also be ridiculously busy and packed with obligations and graduations (from pre-school on up), not to mention parties and ceremonies for every classroom, team and group.
This time of year definitely got easier for me with the passing years. There seem to be less scheduled events now that my daughter is a little older, and the events themselves seem to be more relaxed — I always thought all-day picnics at rented pools, with transportation and activities and awards and lots of necessary parent-volunteer help were too much for smaller kids anyway. Likewise, endless award ceremonies and graduations for tiny children who would rather be playing. And, for that matter, a too-busy calendar.
One special year (over objections from some parents – is that who these parties are for?) the kids in my daughter’s class all walked to a teacher’s house because they had wanted to play with her dogs. They had picnic lunches and played games in a park and walked back to school for the end of the day. It was probably one of the simplest, most memorable year-end parties of all, because it came from the hearts of the teacher and the kids, and not from another adult’s idea of what a year-end party should be.
So, how can you keep year-end frenzy at bay, for yourself, your family, and possibly a class or group?
Check in with yourself and others. Ask yourself and your family members if you’d prefer some down-time to attending one more activity, or taking part in just one segment of a multi-part event.
Give yourself permission to sit some events out. You probably know if an event is too much for your child or your family. Try to honor everyone’s limits. There will be ample opportunity for more celebrations in the future. Also, look at each event practically. If younger siblings can attend, if everyone is fed — these things might make an event more palatable, workable and fun.
As a parent, You don’t have to volunteer for every task. It’s nice to do your part, and volunteering can be a lot of fun. It can also allow you to make the most of each activity and not feel as if they are flying by. However, do listen to your gut if it tells you you’re taking on too much or the wrong thing. Sometimes well-meaning parents create very complicated activities and projects that ultimately don’t have a lot of meaning for the kids (or for you). I wish I would have extricated myself from a couple of those.
Create some unstructured family time. It will take some extra effort when things are especially hectic, but that’s just when you need some unstructured time the most. As counter-intuitive as this may sound, if you need to write it in your calendar, do so. Take an afternoon to lie on the grass and watch the clouds, or take a family walk in your neighborhood. Pull a chair outside at twilight and watch the first stars come out. Eat a simple dinner as a family. Let yourself get so bored that time actually seems to slow down, or keep a free day open to do whatever you really feel like that morning.
Spend time in nature. Nature truly does have a way of relaxing and rejuvenating both body and spirit. It can be just the antidote to a hectic schedule. Children and adults can experience awe in nature in a deep, profound way. It’s also often a great place to run around and let off steam, or, conversely, to be contemplative and quiet in the midst of a busy season. Nature also provides a wonderful perspective and a place of fresh wonder that has little to do with the busy-ness of modern life.
Let children be children. Consider which events have the most meaning for your children and prioritize those. Try not to feel pressured to participate in an event or a schedule that doesn’t feel right for your family. If you are in any position to help plan the activities, try to keep the playful, and the age-appropriate meaningfulness, in mind. Perhaps others will follow your lead.
Discuss your child’s feelings. Despite the celebratory nature of the events, some children will feel a tremendous amount of confusion or dismay about the passage of time or the possible change that it brings. Others may be overwhelmed by any celebration or attention. Try to allow some time and space for children to express themselves and their needs.
Get enough sleep. Force yourself and your children to go to bed at a reasonable hour (possibly even unwinding a bit before bed). Save some tasks for another day — they’ll still be there. Getting enough rest, eating well, and treating yourself well are fundamental tools in warding off the stress of a busy schedule.
Let go of perfection. The end of the year can mean houseguests or the hosting of meals. So, to our busy schedules, we add the task of making our homes appear perfect. Clean what you reasonably can and let the rest go. If people have come to celebrate you and yours, that includes your home in its glorious imperfection. Besides, most people don’t look at our houses with the same critical eye we do.
Charge up the camera batteries, bring some Kleenex, and Enjoy the rituals. If you are attending a full-fledged graduation or similar rite of passage or achievement, delight in the moment and the celebrant and enjoy the blessings of family and well-wishers.
And, if all this still doesn’t help, remember that things will be relatively quiet soon.
These tips were adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities and slowing techniques.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman