Transition times can be an absolute nightmare for parents of complex kids. Whether it's the end of the school year, or breaks during the year, or even shifting from dinner-time to bed-time, we have to help our kids navigate stopping and starting, and it's not easy for any of us! During transitions like this it can be particularly difficult to figure out what is really most important.
Take the end of a term, for example. Whether your child needs guidance to catch up on missing assignments, or avoid burn-out while preparing for final exams, how you respond can make a big difference. So whenever you're dealing with a difficult transition, I want to encourage you to think about how it makes you feel. For example, just thinking about the end of a school term makes me exhausted!
So to successfully survive all of the transitions that can make life difficult, I encourage you to ask yourself this question – five magic words:
What is Most Important Here?
Those five simple words are like fertile ground to root your feet into whenever life gets too crazy. As a parent of special needs kids, I've learned that the fantasy I created when I was growing up about what my family life would be like is just that – a fantasy. Not only do I not “have it all,” I've learned that I actually don't want it all!
All parents make trade-offs. And these five words will help you understand your highest priorities, for both you and your kids, so you can keep calmer and saner in an otherwise intense world.
Here are some examples of how focusing on what is important has helped me to maneuver through some real, challenging situations.
Middle School student trying to complete a semester's worth of missing assignments, prepare for final exams and hold it all together until the end of the semester.
What is most important here? I realized that I needed to help him to prioritize his efforts so that he can be as successful as possible where it counts most for him. To do that, I needed to be clear on his agenda and his needs, while managing my own triggers and staying out of "Threat Mode."
The result: He raised his grade by 10 points in the class that was the most important to him, while some of his classes he chose to let slide a little. AND it felt great (for both of us)!
The real challenge for me is to let go of my own perfectionist tendencies and let him take the lead. My job becomes “snack bringer,” or “body double.” If your child is the one with the perfectionist tendencies, you may need to help them by asking, “What is most important here?” and help your child see when it's “good enough.”
Darling Daughter, older Elementary student, with too many end-of-year activities. She gets completely burned out by the time that finals come around, and does everything she can to avoid studying. What she wants to do is just cruise through exams with her fingers crossed.
What is most important here? Remember that job number one is to manage myself and keep my own agenda out of the way. In this situation, because it is the first time she's had final exams, my priority is to help her to gain the skills of prioritizing, and understand the potential consequences of her actions. At the same time, I do not want to push her into Threat Mode. (Like mother, like daughter, I guess!).
For her, I hold up the mirror and help her to see the potential future implications of her actions, encourage her to find a middle ground, and then ultimately let her make her own choices (mostly).
The result: To be honest, at one point I conveniently “forgot” to tell her about a scheduled activity, and we simply missed it. We all make the best decisions we can in the moment. Sometimes, when our kids are younger, we have to help them by limiting the choices available to them.
This parenting stuff can be really hard, but ultimately it's about staying as aware as you can about your own tendencies and priorities, while simultaneously supporting your kids in developing their own.
What is most important here?
This question goes a long way toward helping me enjoy and develop a relationship with my kids. Ultimately, it helps them along on the road toward becoming an independent adult.