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A Parent Powers Up Her Positive Thinking for Back-to-School Season

Stepping back into a new school year asks us to remember the lessons that sustain our authentically positive outlooks.

Back to school
Credit: Getty Images

The last time my son Ben set foot in his elementary school building was on March 12, 2020. He was mid-way through third grade, nine years old, with a rocket ship backpack I loved to see bobbing next to me as we walked to and from school together.

This week, Ben will step back into his school as a 5th grader, a 10.5-year-old tween whose new backpack is a simple black, emblazoned with his last name. He will be able to walk to and from school alone or with friends, if he prefers that to my company. 

As a mother—and as the mother of an only child—I’d been preparing to face the milestone last-first-day-of-elementary-school for some time. Then, during the pandemic, I’d steeled myself for the surreality of the two inches of height and other sudden indicators that Ben is an almost-middle-schooler.

Having opted for remote schooling all of last year, we are also needing to adjust to a return to school amid the Delta variant of the pandemic. Our community has high vaccination rates and low infection rates, and our school is doing all the right things in terms of requiring masks and offering weekly pooled COVID testing. But this back-to-school moment is further complicated by the frightful knowledge that our vaccine-ineligible young kids are more vulnerable than any of us would describe as “comfortable.”

With all of this on my mind, I’m taking myself “back-to-school” by reminding myself of the power of authentic positivity to meet complex moments grounded in honesty and allowing for multiple, simultaneous layers of emotion. 

Here are the three lessons I’m schooling myself on this week.

1)  There’s Enough Room for All the Feelings
My description of Ben’s growth over the past year and a half might have sounded wistful, and it is. But my feelings are not only nostalgic. Authentic positivity asks us to fully embrace and acknowledge the difficulties a parent faces watching their child grow up. 

But I also devote equal energy to noticing and naming the joy of having more sophisticated dinner table conversations, pride in the courage Ben is showing as he strides back to school with more excitement than trepidation and gratitude that we were able to navigate the long months of the pandemic together as a family.

2)  The Hard Parts Are Expected and Appropriate
Sometimes, I might judge myself as being “negative” because I’ve forgotten to normalize that hard things are….hard. 

Adjusting to a school routine that feels like ancient history, waiting for the results of the new-to-us weekly COVID tests—it would be strange if those things came easily and seamlessly after all we’ve weathered since March 2020. 

An authentically positive mindset says, “Let’s not add self-deprecation to the list of things that are truly, appropriately stressful realities.”

3)  Keep It Slow Through the Transition Time
Pre-pandemic, September and June were always challenging months for us as parents. In these months, we (and our kids) are always awash with excitement (sometimes tinged with stress) around the transition inherent in starting or finishing a school year. 

The “new normal” is not yet normal in these moments. So now is the time to slow way down, focus on doing our work, eating nourishing meals, getting enough sleep, moving our bodies—and possibly needing a bit “more” from the self-care categories we know serve our authentically positive life paths. 

What other lessons would you offer to take yourself “back-to-school” for positive thinking?

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