Yes Dads Can: Back to School

Ah, the end of summer. The end of vacation and a return to the routines that dominate our lives most of the year.

As a kid, I hated it. As a former teacher, I dreaded it. As a parent working outside the educational field, I am honestly pretty pumped about it.

I love my kids. I love that we get to spend so much time together during the summer. What I have learned though, is that I am probably not naturally a full-time cool dad. I am more of a full-time “I can keep you alive and address any issues that come up, but honestly you may need to entertain yourself for a while” dad, who, when not exhausted from work, chores, adult drama, or the rest, can hop in and mix it up.

But now it’s August, nearly September, and the break each day while they are at school is welcomed. God bless all educators, I say.

The challenge becomes being the available, attentive, and engaged father I want to be in the limited hours I have with my kids. Well I am no guru, and I make no claim to having all the answers, I have found a couple strategies that have made the transition pretty smooth.

Manage Your Work Stress

For many of us, summer just means a warmer time of year that we report to the same place of work. Unless we have daycare or other options, it also means we have to schedule our kids, think about where they are, or wonder what trouble they’re getting into while we are away or busy. Knowing where they are, especially when you are comfortable and confident in the school they attend, takes a lot of the stress away.

But just because the kids aren’t on your mind or around all the time doesn’t mean someone or something isn’t driving you crazy. It is tempting, even common, to believe that we can compartmentalize work stress, leave it at the office, and come home ready to relax. In practice this is much easier said than done, and our families suffer for it. 

To bleed off or process the pressures of adult life before getting home:

  • Stay active at work. if you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk, schedule breaks each hour to stretch and walk around. Not only will you be more productive, your body will be more energized.
  • Take your scheduled breaks. Even if someone isn’t pressuring us to do so, it is common to work through lunch or rest breaks to get more done. It may even feel good in the moment, but most people end up feeling more tired and resentful at the end of the day because, even if you grind through most of your work, there’s still always something waiting for you the next day.
  • Connect with coworkers. It is work and requires more extra version than a lot of people might be comfortable with, but reaching out, building healthy connections with others, is a great way to develop a supportive network at work. Your coworkers are not your therapists, but they will be a source of validation and support in situations that you would otherwise possibly need their before. Think about it.
  • Wrap up your working day before the end of your working day. This does not mean stop working, but rather that we simply do not take on new projects or set new expectations that we cannot complete or meet before the end of the current working day. Instead use your energy to wrap up current projects and prepare for the next day.

Strategies like this help you process your day and get closure in the role that you play for businesses, companies, or others that you work with throughout the day. This also prepares you and gives you space for the role that you’re going to fill when you head home.

Make a Plan, Stick to the Plan

So it’s time to engage with your kids at the end of a successful school day. For most, it goes like this – How was your day? Fine. What did you learn? Nothing. Even though it seems like it, this is not standoffish behavior. Your kids still want to connect with you! If your kids go to a good school, heck even a fair to middling school, they are likely working and being challenged throughout the day. being tactful about what to ask and how makes it easier for you and for your kids to connect on their experiences. You never know, they might even ask you how your day was. Try the following to get conversations going with your kids:

  • Ask a specific question. Instead of, how was your day, ask how recess went. Ask if they played tetherball. Ask if they saw a particular friend. Ask what the funniest thing that happened was. Ask them what surprised them. Anything that will help them think of a specific thing to talk about is going to spark more conversation than a general question.
  • Follow up on previous discussions. Maybe your daughter mentioned some thing about her math class. Check in on that specifically. Not only is it some thing that she probably wants to talk about, it shows that you are listening and care about her opinion and experiences.
  • Tell stories. Start the conversation with a recounting of something that happened to you when you were in school. Starting with a story makes the conversation feel less intimidating because they don’t have to invent something to discuss right away. A good story also give something to compare their own experiences against, which might help conversation go easier. It also doesn’t hurt to show that You once experienced some of the things they themselves are going through.
  • Ask about their classmates or teachers. Sometimes it is easier for kids to talk about other people first. Especially when they’re coming out of a environment in which they may feel like they are being evaluated by adults, a question about themselves could feel like a quiz. Asking about what someone else did, saw, or said makes them the reporter, not the subject of an investigation.

Best of luck to us all. Here’s to a new school year and the excitement and surprises I’m sure will follow!

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