Back to school time is an exciting time of year as children and families prepare for a new school year. It is filled with tours of schools, enrollment paperwork, shopping for supplies, and eager anticipation to learn about new teachers and more. Parents are often seen going through these processes with their children hand in hand.
First day of school photos have become a trending feature with kids dressed their best and posing with their supplies or letterboard proclaiming their stats and dreams. It is a bright time of year where kids smile as bright as their new shoes. They reunite with school friends, and get to work in their next grade. It also signifies the end of summer, and summer break naturally.
It is a generally exciting time for most families, however, noncustodial parents go through this time of year with added sadness. Other parents may be rejoicing in the return to normalcy of the school year schedule. While noncustodial parents are coming down from the longest visitation cycle they receive all year. Excitement fills the air as children gather school supplies, wonder about their classes, and reunite with friends. It can be tough to balance the excitement for the year ahead, with the end of summer dread noncustodial parents endure.
When my daughter departs at the end of summer it is like the loss of custody all over again. Another sweet summer full of time spent together retires to the dawning of another school year. I catch myself reminiscing about our current summer before it’s even over. Then I have to remind myself to snap out of it and enjoy the moments I still have.
This is the everlasting noncustodial parent’s tragic flaw. We spend so much time apart from out children, longing for them, that we continue to long for them even when they’re within reach. The best way to cope with this for me has been to realize it is happening, and change the scenery. Get up from the current location or activity and thrust yourself into the next. If you’re crafting together and find your thoughts drifting, get up and stand next to your child. Begin an imaginative conversation to learn and laugh with each other. Forget about the upcoming timeline of return.
The end of summer woes usually begin as soon as my daughter sees the back to school supplies in stores. It seems this happens sooner and sooner every year. This year she was so expressive about her anticipated new backpack and daydreamed about the selection of pencil cases. I almost snapped. Not because of her. Because I know that restocking school supplies is the first sign of impending doom that she must leave again.
So I swallow my sorrow and join her joy in these little things. Of scented markers, sharpened pencils, bottles of glue, and glittery backpacks. Gathering the latest we can afford in school supplies and school clothes is bittersweet. As bitter as I find myself feeling about this end of summer ritual, I take solace in knowing she enjoys doing it with me. Not to mention she will wear and carry the clothes and supplies we purchased together in her new year of her educational life. So although I won’t be there to walk her into her new classroom, or take those first day of school photos, I know I am still with her. Even from somewhere else.
For extra fun and love, I sometimes attach little notes to her supplies so when she uses them for the first time she has these little love notes just from mom.
Children can be resilient to this revert back to the norm for them. But keep in mind they are going through the transition and confusion of end of summer too. During the long summer visitation you and they have become accustom to this way of living. To seeing each other, to spending more time together. The abrupt end can be jarring on both sides. Support your children in all the ways you can. Remain positive about the upcoming year and do not dwell with them on the sad fact of separating once more. Make plans for the future, that’s the best medicine I’ve found for taking the edge off. With so much to look forward to, and plans surrounding the next time you’ll reunite, the easier it is.
Remember to practice positive self talk during back to school time, and other trying times as a noncustodial parent. You are your child’s parent. You’re doing what you can. You love them. They love you too.