Written by Melissa Camara Wilkins
August may be a good school planning month (though I’ll tell you secretly, I like January better), but what I’m planning right now is dorm supplies and dining hall meal plans and one million important conversations, because in a few VERY SHORT WEEKS, my oldest daughter leaves for college.
Regular life—and regular homeschooling—will continue for my husband and I and our five younger kids, but our family will look a little bit different. I don’t know yet how our days will shift and how everyone will feel and what will need adjusting.
So what will our new school year look like? Well, it will be the same as always, and also I have no idea.
Why belonging comes first
At freshman orientation with my daughter last month, I heard something that I keep thinking about. The orientation leaders told us that while the parents would be given tons of information while we were there, the students would mostly get that information later.
That’s because when the students show up on campus for the first time, what those students really need to know is whether they belong.
So that’s what they focus on first, at orientation. They spend time making sure the kids all know that they’re seen, that they’re welcome, that there’s a place for them, that they belong.
Because the students can’t take in any information—they can’t learn anything—until they know that.
I sat right down in my chair when I heard that because? TRUTH. None of us can learn and grow and flourish until we’re secure in our own belonging. We just can’t.
We can’t learn when we’re hungry, and we can’t learn when our hearts are starved for security. We have to meet our body’s needs and our heart’s needs before our minds can light up. Of course.
Planning for belonging
So THAT’S what I’m planning for right now, as I think about this new school year for my kindergartener and my elementary schoolers and my middle schooler and my high schooler. (Oh my.) The math and the reading are important, but first, I’m making sure we’re all filled up on love and belonging.
I’m asking: What does each kid need right now?
What does our family as a whole need?
What do each of us parents need? (Because hi, parents are part of the family, too.)
And how are we going to meet those needs?
Here’s how we’re going to start:
I think being seen for who you are is the first step toward knowing you belong, so that’s where we’ll start. We’ll start by being sure everyone feels seen.
Most of the time we operate as a big family group, but one night every week, one parent takes one kid out for some alone-together time. We rotate through so everyone gets a turn.
This isn’t fancy or expensive—we might play card games at a coffee shop, wander a bookstore, or dream up things to make at the craft supply shop. But it gives each of our kids the chance to make their own plans, to be heard, and to have our full attention. It works.
I’m also thinking about what makes our family feel like, well, our family.
I’m thinking about concrete things, like family dinners and Friday night movies on the couch. I want to keep those in the mix, even though we might be tempted to let them slide in a busy new season. I think flopping down on a couch together once a week probably tells my kids a lot about who we are and what matters to us.
(I’m thinking about all the other things that make us who we are as a family, too—an enduring love of Star Wars and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Jane Austen, devotion to British baking shows, an appreciation of French pastry cream, endless plays on words and puns all day long—but those don’t really need my attention to keep rolling.)
If it reminds us all that we belong to each other, it’s worth making time for.
Your worth is not your work
And I’ll be looking for ways—as always—to remind each of us that we matter and that we are loved no matter how our work goes that day.
Because what good is it to solve your geometry problems, if you aren’t clear on your rock-solid belonging?
I want my kids to be everything they were made to be in the world, and yes, geometry will help, but first they need to know it’s okay to be exactly who they are.
And then, bonus: the learning comes so much more easily.
In your family, how do you remind each other that you belong?