Why I’m Glad It’s Back-to-School Time (and Not Ashamed to Admit It)

It is time for the kids to go back to school.

For the last three years, in late August, I’ve written with nostalgia and grief about the passing of their youth, with trepidation about what they will learn on the playground, with empathy about the fear of a new school and new teachers and new friends, and with heartbreak about the inevitability of it all.

This is not that kind of post.

back-to-school

Photo Credit: Bigstock (noblige)

This year, when I say it is time for the kids to go back to school, I mean it is time for the kids to go back to school, as in, the joy of summer is all used up. As in, either they leave for school, or my sanity is going to leave me. I’m not sure which will happen first. It could be a photo finish.

What is the difference between this year and the last three years?

This year, for the first time, I was home with them all summer long for three days a week. Not five. Just three. And I had a babysitter for some of that time. (I can hear some of you who stay home full-time with your kids rolling your eyes at me. I can actually hear the eyeballs rolling in your heads. And I don’t blame you.) Even so, now I know: being solely sorrowful about the return to school is the luxury of the full-time employed and those with a peculiar penchant for chaos and mess and sibling bickering. This year, I am here to tell you, I want them to go back to school but, even more importantly, they need to go back to school.

They don’t think they need to go back to school.

They think it would be best for them if summer lasted forever.

It wouldn’t.

An older brother can only spend so many days playing with his younger sister before he starts to think of her as a nag and a tag-along. We surpassed that day on July 17.

A little sister can only spend so many days playing with her older brother before she starts to feel small and belittled and desperate for someone who will play with dolls instead of wrestling with her. We surpassed that day on July 18.

And a tweenage boy can only spend so many days isolating with headphones, trying to become a video star on music.ly, and questioning every summertime chore and boundary before both he and his dad are wishing college wasn’t so far away. We surpassed that day about 48 hours after school let out in May.

And, yes, I know all about the things we should be doing to limit their languishing. They’ve gone to camps and lessons and practices. They’ve had daily chores and daily errands. We’ve shooed them out of the house and into the sunlight for hours at a time. They’ve faced into boredom and found creativity in the form of coloring and painting and building and imaginary play. I’ve chatted with them until everyone is blue in the face.

And still, they are restless with youthful energy.

And still, I’m pretty sure I can see unused gray matter leaking out of their ears.

And still, underneath their anxiety, they secretly long for the next new school experience.

Previously, I thought home is where my kids are meant to be and the place where they thrive best. But I’m changing my tune. Though they are still young, they are already wanting more from life than I can provide. The world is truly their oyster; I’m just that little knife-thing they will use to get the oyster open. Of course, having said all that, on the first day of school I’m still going to be a little weepy, because most of the time I sort of like being the little knife-thing.

However.

This isn’t most of the time. This is the end of summer, and I’m more aware than ever that home isn’t a destination; it’s a respite. A rest stop. A place to recharge so they can get back out into the world, to explore, to learn, to grow, to become. And no one needs to hang out at a rest stop for three months. That is insane. The toilets are dirty.

So, yes, it is time for my kids to go back to school.

And this part-time stay-at-home dad is not ashamed to admit it.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Marie

    Well said! I have three boys…two starting high school this morning…and this post resonates.

    I work in an elementary school, so I’m fortunate enough to be home all summer long. We pack in so many good times…but it’s time.

    I’ve been back at work getting ready for the year, and it feels so good. I can stop feeling guilty over not tackling the eighty seven projects I planned to tackle. I can just go to work, where my job is clearly defined.

    Lunches packed last night, backpacks ready to go, no more time for Pokemon go (though that app was right on time for this mom!)..it’s going to be a great year!

    • Marie, it’s great to hear your perspective as a mother AND as someone who is in the schools. You’re joy about getting back to school yourself is a nice affirmation that the feeling isn’t about lack of affection for kids but the need for a new season that challenges us in new ways. Thank you!

  • Judy Reith

    “I’m more aware than ever that home isn’t a destination; it’s a respite.
    A rest stop. A place to recharge so they can get back out into the
    world, to explore, to learn, to grow, to become.” My favourite line – I often use a similar version to my coaching clients. But you’re right, no one should stay in the toilet too long…

    • I’m glad that part resonated with you, Judy. And thank you again for all the good work you’re doing on behalf of parents and children!

  • Shannon

    LOVE this! Thank you!

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    So very spot on. Both tall(ish) and small in our house are back in school and I feel so thankful, every year, not (just) for the academics my kiddo gets at school. The relationships he gets to build with people very different from and similar to himself are invaluable and surpass what I could provide him trolling area parks. The responsibilities and expectations we have of students in classrooms repeatedly surprise parents, and I am no exception, when they find their little ones can do so much independently.
    After a summer away from school together, I am delighted to see my kiddo returning to the independent, engaged, social, and fascinating guy he is—when he has all that time learning and adventuring and standing on his own two feet away from home.

    • Aahhh. This. Thank you, Shel. It’s so true. It’s amazing to watch so much more of them surface when they are challenged intellectually, socially, and otherwise at school. Right on.

  • Amy

    As a stay-at-home, homeschooling momma, I actually do understand the place from which you are speaking. Incidentally, that is why my kids start the “new” year sometime in August because cracking open new books, exploring new ideas, starting new discussions in new areas of study is vitally important to their continued growth as students and as people. The structure of school days makes everything work a bit more smoothly, clearly defines the expectations of each day, and helps us all become a bit more productive. Happy back-to-school!

    • I so admire your commitment, Amy, and your wisdom in not waiting too long to resume the school year. Happy back-to-homeschool to you, too!

  • Patricia

    Great post! So true!!

  • imstefrank

    This sentiment works for college. We are taking our youngest son to college in a week. Although I face the empty nest and I am struggling with the shifting of my role as mom, I recognize that it is time for all of us, both my two boys and my husband and I to move on. However, it isn’t without significant sadness.

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure the August we send the first one off to college I’ll be back to writing a really emotional, sentimental post. I’m guessing it will feel right and good and heartbreaking all at once. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Rebekah Bierenga McDowell

    The bit about home being a respite is beautiful. I’m reading Sue Klebold’s book about her survival of the days after Columbine and her reflections on raising a child who grew up to commit a murder-suicide, and I’m reminded more than ever of the need for home to be a respite. And, I’m a mostly work-from-home mom (as in do an outside job mostly from home while providing that respite–and refereeing–for my children), so I know the cost of staying in that rest area too long. They DO need school. And I need school for them. And we will then provide a shorter stay in the rest area in the evenings and on weekends, because they need me to stay engaged with them. Which I can do a lot better when we’re not all tired of being together in the smelly, too-small, dirty toilet.

  • I haven’t been in your shoes for quite some time, but boy do I remember this, lol. I’m passing this along to all of my young parent friends. I can pass it along confidently because you have expressed this with such balance and love and humor..and I need to be walking that walk “kid-less” or not!

  • Cat

    Hi, just to say I think this is a brilliant article! It actually brought tears to my eyes when I was reading it to my mother and my husband …..I think that’s because it felt so true for me and somehow the fact that you are a therapist and have been for many years it made me feel that it’s ok to have these thoughts & feelings and that its normal!! Thanks for your words of wisdom😊🌅 Caterina