Back to school is a transition… and transitions are hard!

half the moonDifferent schools start up at different times, but my kids start today and this reminds me about my second mantra of parenting: Transition is hard!  The first mantra, by the way, is:  You can’t win (whatever we do as parents, it’s somehow “wrong,” or at least appears to be at times, but when we accept this and don’t take all the griping personally we are well on our way to being our best selves as parents).

Transition is life.  Birth, puberty, marriage, arrival of kids and exit through death—the life-cycle is virtually defined by transitions.  One of our key tasks as parents is helping our children navigate transitions well, bolstering their confidence so that “new” doesn’t mean “bad” or “painful.”

Erick Erickson divides life into stages with essential tasks, such as developing “basic trust” vs. “mistrust.”  Erickson’s second life task is “industry vs. inferiority,” and he felt that you needed to master this early on in order to have the confidence to engage the world and lead a productive and enriching life.  

If your child, or children’s current back-to-school situation involves the task of separating from you for pre-school, keep in mind that they may hold it together during the day, but need a snack and ample opportunity for a melt-down when you pick them up; that try to bear in mind that your highly unpleasant afternoons that hit like late summer thunderstorms doesn’t mean you picked the wrong pre-school, just that your kid needs a psychic toilet to put their crappy feelings into (and you are the lucky psychic toilet).  Slowly they re-absorb their negative feelings and become solid and secure (we, meanwhile must resist the temptation toward that three martini play-date; don’t do it, go with the smoothie!).

If you have your hands full with transition at the moment, you may not have time for this post, so I’ll try to keep it on the brief side.  At fifth grade the kids are much more aware of ways they might not fit in, so keep myelination (the turbo-charging of neurons that happens around this time) in mind (see prior post for more on that: ) to understand why true and deep angst may have arrived in your child’s psyche.

In middle school a lot of kids are so insecure about their changing bodies and identities that a lot of meanness can be floating around, not to mention yet more crappy feelings washing up on the shores of mom and dad.  Keep that in mind, don’t take it personally and don’t retaliate.  I like middle-school kids (except when I’m not liking them), but at least with their edge and contrariness they have a way of keeping it real (except when they’re taking their drama over the top).  If it helps to vent, feel free to share your kids’ worst vitriol with our privilege of parenting sangha (or community) and trust that you’re not the only one getting a nasty ear-full (nor does this mean you’re a bad parent, remember the first mantra:  you can’t win anyway!  Yet by “losing” lovingly and with grace, really by getting beyond winning and losing, we might come together with our children, and our world, in a sort of spiritual winning).  

Plus, let’s not sugar coat the Shadow.  We all have our dark sides, and our kids sometimes serve mirrors to our selves.  When we integrate that Shadow, we are less destabilized by our children’s negativity and destructive impulses.  We’re striving for compassion, but most of all for consciousness and an embrace of our children’s (and our own) full spectrum of humanity.  When we recognize our own inner beasts, we remove them from being projected onto our kids (or partners, or parents) and this does reduce the likelihood of them suddenly leaping at us out of the tangle of lunches, laundry, tutors, doctor appointments and the like.

With high-school our parental transition can be about being made to feel irrelevant, until our would-be-independent young would-be-adult pulls the homework, clothes, hair, skin, social-calendar fire-alarm and desperately needs our help… until they want us to lose their cell phone numbers again. Stay sane—see a friend for coffee, enjoy, commiserate… because soon it will be the next big transition:

Off to college, the big life transition.  You can’t believe it’s here, just a moment ago we were dealing with pre-school separation.  Don’t despair, they’re not really growing up (that starts at twenty-seven in our culture), they’re really just going off to sleep-away camp with books.  No worries, they’ll still be regressing and connecting at all their prior levels of development along the way; and who knows, they may, after expensive graduate arts education, be on our couches and ready for us to make them snacks and help them deal with the task once again of industry vs. inferiority when they must finally confront the “real” world that we parents have been living in for decades (that one with bills and insurance and taxes).

As parents, our children transition developmentally, but we also transition spiritually—ever closer to the realization that it has always been all about the present moment.  So wherever you are at in your life-cycle, your kids’ development and your own views on life, let’s dedicate today to… today!  And let’s do it in service of all our collective children.  The good thing about transition is that it’s like the weather, so if you don’t like what’s happening, just wait and it will change… that is unless you live in LA.

Namaste, Bruce


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2 Responses to “Back to school is a transition… and transitions are hard!”

  1. Laurie Says:

    Once again Bruce you are right there. Thank you for sharing all your experience through this blog. Power up for after school pick up!

  2. A.N. Says:

    Thanks for the serious help in parenting business coated in humor and fun!
    I saw the same Moon : )

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