Are you ready for the kids to go back to school? I know it is not really a choice, but I hear parents regularly express relief when school comes back around, even though school brings its own set of stressors: getting supplies, paying fees, managing homework. 

It seems like a rather weird pattern develops where we look forward to the summer—the freedom in schedules, lack of pressure with homework, flexibility from routine, but then we look forward to the return to school and all that goes along with it.

Why is that? It seems like we let our lives get driven by these external forces in an “all or nothing” attitude. In the summer, we throw ourselves into a lack of routine only to find ourselves longing for routine, so when all the schedules and calendars come out, we let them drive our lives and the lives of our kids.

Somewhere in there is a happy medium, a balance that can give us some clear schedule and plans but also provide some flex time and down time. This kind of balance is needed in both the school season as well as summer.

How does this balance come about? It has to be intentionally pursued by you as parents. If you hope to just fall into some sense of balance, it will not happen. You and your children will find yourselves driven by this strange force that will create tension, fatigue and dissatisfaction because there is never enough time to ____________ (fill in the blank).

So, as you head back into the “all” extreme season, why not try to find some balance in your schedule-driven world. And you might ask how? How is that even possible with ___ kids (fill in the number) and all their activities in school, out of school or in spite of school.

Well, it is possible, but you have to implement a few rules of permission. So here are three “It’s OK to” rules to try.

First, it is OK to say “no,” meaning you may wisely choose not to do every activity under the sun with your children. You may have them try one activity each season, one sport, one instrument, one creative outlet. You don’t have to plan activities for every weekend.

Over the course of their early elementary school, they may try several things before they land on something they really want to invest in, but there is no real benefit in having them do them all at one time. In fact, it can really wear them out and you as well.

There is a term used to describe families like this. They are “hurried,” operating out of non-stop busyness, and according to philosopher Dallas Willard, it is one of the most detrimental issues weakening the modern-day family.

So, be OK with saying “no” to some activities, events or opportunities. Work as a team and have a family calendar so the kids understand why some things are just a “no” for now.

Second, it is OK to be at home. Better than that, it is GOOD to be home.

We wonder why kids have no connection to home, but we have to realize that if they spend no time at home, if they have no home experiences or memories to build on, home doesn’t mean much.

I think parents are concerned that their children will be bored at home, but I think we shortchange our kids with this mindset. If we can train them to expect to be entertained or busy all the time, then we can train them to value time to gear down, rest or develop new ideas.

Have some intentional evenings at home or Saturdays at home with activities that encourage creativity and interaction. The tendency can be to make home about chores or work. I know those things have to get done, but try to make time for reading, games and conversation.

Which brings me to my last rule: It is OK to try different things.

I know the trends are to do what is easiest and what everyone is comfortable with. In this era, that usually involves a screen of some sort.

But what if you tried something different: baked something together; took an object from the house and designed a game around it; did a puzzle; tried to create a new invention; built something; had a dance off. Shall I go on?

Everyone talks about the need for people, especially children, to get away from so much screen time, but when our worlds seem to revolve around them, the change won’t happen unless you make intentional effort to do something different.

You probably know that your kids will not always be thrilled with the different activities, especially at first, but they will be in time, and even look forward to them and remember them much more than something on a screen. I am just suggesting balancing screen time with other activities. Stimulate other parts of the brain and build social and relational skills. Besides, it can be a lot of fun.

So welcome back to school. Maybe this year you don’t have to throw yourself and your family into the “all” extreme in scheduling. Maybe you can find a blend of schedule and downtime, home time and away, and a variety of activities to develop everyone in the family, and truly be a family.

Linda Allen is a Care Ministry Equipping Associate at Southeast Christian Church.