What matters most to our family as the school year wraps up

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | May 12, 2017

The end of the school year infuses our family’s schedule with new additions and challenges.

Nathan is balancing his normal homework along with an AP test and CIF volleyball matches.

Krista is graduating from junior high, which means a slate of “goodbye” activities at her current school and “welcome” activities at her new high school. Plus a lot of time shopping online for a white dress for graduation that fits Krista’s tastes (meaning it has a bit of lace but isn’t too frilly, it’s long enough but not too long, it looks young but not too childish…).

As she’s finishing fifth grade, Jessica has no real special activities. But she’s getting more antsy for a homework-free summer while still facing her normal rhythms of schoolwork, Girl Scouts, and church commitments.

All of which leaves me with a longer “to do” list and this pressing question: What is most important to me as a parent in the midst of my kids’ year-end activities, academic pressure, and listlessness?

I have a new answer this year: I want our family to laugh at dinner.

How much our family laughs at dinner is a barometer for both our level of relational connectedness and family stress. This time of year, it’s easy to let questions about final exams and year-end events dominate our dinner conversations. Granted, we often need to talk about those pressing activities at dinner. But I’m trying to make questions of logistics a side course, not the main meal.

For the Powell family, our capacity to laugh together at dinner doesn’t start when the food is ready and the drinks are served. Our connection over dinner is heavily correlated with how well we’ve connected the rest of the day. We are more likely to laugh at dinner when our days include the following.

When I’ve helped my kids learn from their mistakes without shaming them.

This morning, Nathan forgot an important year-end form that was due. That’s rare for him. I’m planning on talking with him about why he forgot the form, and where he could have placed it last night so he wouldn’t have left it behind. (My secret is to leave everything by the front door so I literally have to step over it before I leave.) But I want to do it from a posture that communicates “That’s unusual for you so how can we create a foolproof system for you?” instead of “How could you have blown such a simple but important task?”

When I’ve cheered on my kids for their little victories.

Krista had a full weekend with group activities—both with friends at her current school as well as her new school—and yet somehow found time to study enough History to do well on a Monday quiz. I congratulated her for being focused in her studies in the midst of a whirlwind social calendar.

When I’ve found little moments to just hang out with my kids.

Yesterday Krista’s softball game was cancelled. So when I picked her up from school, it felt like we had been given a free 90 minutes. We used 45 of those minutes to grab an ice cream shake and head to a nearby park to sit and chat.

When I’ve affirmed that my kids need time to play. And watch Netflix.

I’m unusual in my capacity to keep working without a lot of downtime. The rest of my family is far more normal. And healthy. They need downtime. So when Nathan wants to watch an episode of “The Office” to transition from his studies to bedtime, I’m trying to affirm that. Even though (a large) part of me would rather he study for those extra 22 minutes, I care more about him learning healthy rhythms of work, rest, and play than his AP test score.

When I’ve looked at my own issues in the mirror.

If I’m honest, each one of my kids’ life stages reveals a new layer of my own brokenness and insecurities. A big part of why I want my kids to do well in school is because somehow it makes me feel like a better parent. Like I’ve done my job in training them, and I’ve helped our family steward our time and resources well. The more aware I am of how I find my own sense of identity through my kids, the closer I can move to the grace-grounded identity for which I long.

As the spring term is wrapping up, I’d love to learn from you. What helps you laugh with your family at dinner? Or what other goals have you set for these last weeks of school?

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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