It’s back to school time, and there is no shortage of advice on how to make that process go smoothly. Just hop onto Pinterest and search “Back to School,” and you will see a plethora of cute ideas showing you how to do things like pack gourmet lunches (complete with colorful accessories and star-shaped cheese), organize snacks into containers for each day of the week, lay out clothes for your child a week in advance, and set up homework stations that make it easier to oversee daily homework chaos.
Is this what is expected of “good” mothers these days? If so, count me out. I am happy with being mediocre.
Not only that, but I assure you that these “Back to School Hacks” will not make my life easier. They will only create a MOUNTAIN of (completely unnecessary) work for me. No, thank you.
Instead, I use only one back to school hack: I expect my kids to take responsibility for themselves and their schoolwork.
And you know what? They do it quite well and have been doing so since their early elementary years.
They get themselves up in the morning, shower, and get dressed in clothes they have laundered and chosen themselves. (Yep. They do their own laundry, too.) Then they comb their hair (sometimes with a little help), make their own breakfast (usually cereal or something equally exciting), brush their teeth, pack their lunches, snacks, water bottles, and backpacks.
While they are doing that, I am free to do whatever I want. Generally, I choose some combination of exercising, showering, eating breakfast, reading scriptures, and otherwise getting ready for the day. Then I kiss the kiddos goodbye.
In the afternoons when they get home, my kids do their homework 100% independently while I make dinner or run necessary errands. I do not sit with them or hover nearby while they work, don’t check their progress, and never get entangled in homework battles. Most of the time, I don’t even ask them what homework they have. They know what they need to do since they were the ones at school when the assignments were given, and they (generally) do it.
(And if they don’t follow through, tough beans for them. They then get the privilege of talking to their teachers about why they didn’t fulfill their responsibilities. I will not rescue them or contact the teacher on their behalf.)
It is like magic.
Would you like to know the secret to such magic? It is simple, really. Stop doing all the things and expect your kids to step up to the plate.
It has been my experience that kids will generally do what they are expected to do. And when I say expected, I mean that expectations are communicated clearly, concisely, and authoritatively. If wishy-washiness plays any part of the exchange, you can bet the kids will not be inclined to obey. They will see right through the hemming and hawing and cajoling and explaining, accurately determining that you don’t really expect them to comply, even if you say you do.
If you are serious about helping your kids take responsibility for getting themselves ready for school in the morning, thus giving yourself a whole lot more freedom, you might think about telling your little darlings something like this:
“Dearest children of mine, I will no longer be your servant. You are old enough and responsible enough to get yourself ready for school. For starters, I will not make your lunch or your snacks anymore. I will stock the fridge and pantry with the necessary supplies and show you how to put together a healthy meal. Then, you will make your own lunches and snacks from now on. I will give you suggestions on what to pack if you ask me, but I will not do any part of it for you. If you fail to get your food packed before leaving for school, you will go hungry until you come home. I suggest you plan extra time until you get the hang of it.”
Do you see how there is no wiggle-room in those expectations? They are crystal clear. And, trust me, it will only take a time or two of going hungry before packing a lunch becomes a top priority. (So don’t save them from this natural consequence, no matter how much you want to!! They will live right through it; I promise.)
You can have similar conversations about waking up to an alarm clock, showering, getting dressed, getting their own breakfast, packing their backpack, etc. You can introduce the expectations slowly if your kids are young (even kindergartners are capable), or all at once if they are older.
(And, please, if you have a teenager, I beg you to stop doing all of these things for your child immediately!! Real life is going to hit them like a ton of bricks if you don’t.)
The same goes for homework. I believe with every fiber of my soul that homework should NOT be a family affair. I spent many years in school, learning and studying and doing homework. Now it is my kids’ turn. They are more than capable of doing their own schoolwork without reminders, prodding, begging, pleading, fighting, bribing, or drama.
I expect them to do so, they do it, and it makes all of our lives a whole lot easier.
(I can dive deeper into my homework philosophy another time, but I will say that all 5 of my kids are excellent students who take responsibility for their own learning, so take that for what it is worth.)
Now a quick warning: expect pushback!!
I promise your kids are not going to be happy about taking on more responsibility. But stay the course, dear ones. Stand your ground. Those children (and teens) will soon accept that you are serious, and will start doing the things you expect them to do without all the drama.
If you, like me, would like to enjoy a little more freedom and a little less stress surrounding school, the only back to school hack you need is this one:
Do less and expect your kids to take responsibility for themselves and their schoolwork.
That one suggestion will ultimately make your life a whole lot easier.