Recently my wife, Erin, and I were in a kindergarten orientation meeting for parents. This was our fourth such orientation, but it also represented our last — which was especially hard for Erin. The principal asked if anyone had an example of how he or she reads with the kids at home. I said, “I read with my kids all the time — I turn on the closed captioning when we’re watching TV.”
You could hear crickets chirping. The awkwardness finally ended as Erin gave me that half-smile that meant I was in big trouble.
The stress and anxiety of preparing kids to go back to school can create unique challenges for couples. Increased conflict is common during this time of transition. The best way to de-escalate some of this tension is to recognize what is going on for you emotionally. Talk to your spouse and try putting into words how you’re feeling — “I’m overwhelmed trying to gather all of the back-to-school supplies,” or “I’m worried that our daughter won’t make any friends at her new school.” When you express how you’re feeling, it can calm you down.
Another challenge for couples is deciding how to divide responsibilities. Although one spouse may not have time to participate in all the back-to-school activities, it doesn’t mean that he or she cannot be a part of this changing season in family life. If all the preparation falls solely on one spouse’s shoulders, the other spouse can offer support in other practical ways.
It’s best to discuss these responsibilities as teammates. Make a list of all the tasks needed to get your kids back in school. Then discuss how to divide them. If some of the chores start to create a tug-of-war, make it your goal to out-serve your spouse. I made the decision to get up an hour earlier so I can unload the dishwasher and cook breakfast for the kids. I may hate unloading the dishes, but I know that Erin likes to leave the house with a clean sink and an empty dishwasher. This is one way I can serve my wife.
It’s possible for your marriage to thrive during the back-to-school season when you take time to care for each other and pursue unity.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.