"Education" by Wokandapix, via Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain. "Education" by Wokandapix, via Pixabay (2015), CC0 Public Domain.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for school to start! And at the same time, so very sad to see the summer come to an end. I’m ready for the natural rhythm of the school year and the comfort of our routine, but I’ll mourn the long days spent at home together.

“Back to School” means more than just returning to the classroom; it’s the starter pistol for all the (many) other things that vie for a family’s time and attention during the year: piles of homework, special projects and class presentations, team sports, band, and all the other extracurricular activities which seem to grow each year.

Now, multiply all the things times X number of children (and increase by the power of two for older teens who have jobs and college applications on top of that) and the product is not just a couple of crazy days, but a long series of crazy weeks, months, years!

As a youth minister, I get to see the benefits and downfalls of busy kids and families. On one hand, kids get to explore their interests and develop their talents and glorify God with their minds and bodies. On the other hand, kids who are overextended are stressed out and anxious, don’t get enough sleep, feel disconnected from family and friends, struggle to find time for faith or prayer and are just plain tired!

So how do we help our kids become well-rounded people but also protect them and our families from the “busy”? I’d like to suggest 6 ideas or habits to help you keep the chaos at bay this school year:

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Plan ahead.

Make the Domestic Church the most important, and honor what’s sacred. Talk with your spouse before the school year starts; what are the things you want for your children this year? Make sure that those things get on the calendar and are “untouchable.” Do you want to do regular community service as a family? Do you want to make a weekly family holy hour or rosary? Do you want your teen to go on a retreat? Put those on the calendar right now in permanent maker and let coaches, leaders, and instructors know well in advance when your child might miss a commitment. The really good ones are investing their time and talents in your kid to help him or her become a good person; thank them for that gift and for understanding how important (insert: service, prayer, retreat) is to your family.

Be discerning.

Consider the who/what/when of all those extracurricular activities. It’s easy to get pulled in so many directions and lose sight of the natural hierarchy of community and relationships: family first, as the Domestic Church is a most precious treasure and responsibility; then your parish, where you are nourished by the Sacraments and the Word and nurtured within a particular community; then school; and then all the other things. If you have multiple children involved in multiple activities, it’s critical to balance the good of one child’s participation with the needs of the rest of the family (think: little ones who spend so much time in the car seat running older siblings here and there; sacrificing family meals and recreation).

Set boundaries.

When things are especially busy and chaotic, it’s that much more important to have quality time together. What adjustments can you make to family time so that you’re making the most of it? Your older kids might whine and moan, but try to establish screen-free times and zones so you can be truly present to each other. Make family dinners more peaceful – and probable! – with simple meals with little clean up so you aren’t frazzled by the time you sit down, nor have a mountain of dishes to tend to after. Unplug and unwind together for whatever time you can each day.

Use the time in the car well!

Take a minute to calculate how many hours you spend in the car each week. (Then take a deep breath.) Establish some new habits for yourself and your family so you can use, rather than lose, that time. Turn off the radio and play a car game; keep a designated box or bag for cell phones and collect them from your older kids when they get in the car; download interesting podcasts to listen to together; keep a read-aloud book (or audio book) to read when you’ve got long waits in parking lots or carpool lines.

Start new traditions with each phase of life.

Think about your individual family and the individuals in it: what works for you, right now, in this phase of life? That will change as the years pass, so be ready to adapt frequently! As your kids get older and more independent, their lives shift to include more homework, after school jobs, time with friends, and later bedtimes. If you’re struggling to make family dinners work every day, what about “family bedtime snack”? Take 15 minutes to set everything aside and gather in the kitchen for a bite, some conversation and family prayer.

At the end of the day, whatever you do, keep the end goal in sight: heaven.

All of these things – school, sports, music, scouts, youth ministry – are meant to serve the person and the family, not become the master. They are supposed to help young people be good, not just good at something. And if they aren’t, get rid of them.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8

Here’s to a happy, healthy and holy school year!


Copyright 2016 Megan Swaim