September 1, 2008

“Marrying” the School Year

According to the National Retail Federation’s Back to School Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, the average family with school-aged children will spend $594.24 on back-to-school purchases this year. Clearly, some of this is driven by strong-arm marketing campaigns, which create desire for extraneous “must-have” items. But I suspect that most of this spending is not superfluous; clothing really has worn out or “shrunk” in a growth spurt, and teachers really do expect specific (sometimes pricey) supplies.

So we parents willingly pay the price, as we’re able. After all, the start of a new school year marks a milestone in a child’s life, and we want to celebrate each step toward adulthood. Thus, in addition to new outfits, lunchboxes, and backpacks, we document each first day with photos and video. We take vacation days to personally drop them off. And we cap it off with special back-to-school dinners during which we revel in hearing of their first-day adventures.

None of which is bad; we should celebrate special moments. But we need to be careful, lest we behave like a young couple so focused on creating the “perfect” wedding day that they fail to consider what it takes to sustain a good, healthy marriage over the long haul. The wedding is important. But memories of the one day fade, overtaken with the inevitable challenges faced by two individuals seeking to create a meaningful life together.

Similarly, first-day-of-school excitement is fun and worth enjoying. But your child also faces a long school year ahead, certain to be filled with any number of academic, social, and emotional difficulties. And so – like a husband and wife committed to their marriage – we need to stand with our children through every day of the school year.

There are myriad ways to do so: volunteer in your child’s classroom; sign up to receive email reports from his teachers; frequently ask about what she’s learning…and share what you’re learning so she can see that gaining knowledge is a lifelong process; know and interact with his friends; make time to whole-heartedly listen when she opens up, even if it’s 11:00 at night and you have an early-morning meeting.

You can think of many other ways to stay involved. Can you come up with one strategy for each week? If it helps your child to build the “marriage” between himself and his school year, it’s worth the effort.


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