As we started to emerge from the pandemic fog of the last year, I realized that my peers and I are the first parents in decades to get a halftime.
For years, parents have been stuck in the slog of a marathon where they never knew exactly where they were or exactly where they were going. As an educator for a decade and a half, I watched parents just trying to keep up on the “race to nowhere.” It was hard to stop and regroup without feeling like everyone was passing you by. There was hardly space to call a “timeout.” Then, with predictability and unwarranted surprise, the teen would inevitably crash into the wall of burnout, leaving parents to ask how this could happen when they were doing everything “right.”
We, though, have been given what every team sport needs — a halftime. The global pandemic has hit pause on many of the life-as-usual activities that filled our calendars. So, my suggestion before we hit the second half, is that we do what every good coach does to help their team in the locker room.
1. Rest and rehydrate. Hopefully your family has had some opportunities for lazy days and more sleep. For ours, remote schooling meant a later start in the morning. I am not looking forward to the rush of morning carpool again! As we move forward, though, we must continue to set reasonable boundaries to allow us to recharge. This rest is necessary for our children to thrive.
God knew we would need time to recharge and refocus — thus the gift of Sabbath. Sometimes I think it is the least followed commandment in Christian life. Not only should this halftime give you needed rest, but we also should build time to reset into our schedules in the second half by using all our “timeouts.” Good coaches also know when a player needs to be benched for a bit to regain strength and stamina. When Jesus said “let the children come to me,” he did so to allow them to sit with him and be blessed (Matthew 19:14).
Do not let your children miss this blessing by moving them along from place to place without stopping for a while to be with Jesus. Along with resting, we need to rehydrate. What better way to do that than with the gift of living water? Our souls are dry and dehydrated from striving. The time for rest should allow God’s gift of living water to flow into our lives. We can encounter this by experiencing the natural world, sharing meaningful time with loved ones, attending worship services, serving others, and through prayer and contemplation. Set clear boundaries now before you head back out.
2. Celebrate what went right in the first half. In your family discussions, you probably have talked about the things that you miss from the first half. These are the things that you do well and want to continue to do. They are the activities that give you joy and help you to thrive. They allow you to use the talents and gifts bestowed upon you by God. God gave us good things in this world to appreciate and enjoy (James 1:17).
What dynamics are working well? What traditions and activities bring life to your family? When are you thriving as a group? Put these things back on the calendar first. They will not seem like a burden because they are what defines your family. Continue to run your most successful “plays.”
3. Analyze where team communication broke down. You probably have also recognized things that you do not miss. Maybe you said “yes” to things you felt you had to in order to keep up? Maybe your family was not on the same page with expectations of time commitment or cost? Perhaps you have lost sight of the importance of being integrated into a faith community and have put other commitments first? Maybe other families around you had too much sway over your own priorities?
What things can you put aside for now? One favorable outcome of the pandemic is that many are finding it easier to say “no.” Make a list of the commitments and responsibilities for each member of your family — big and small things. Then look for any branch that is not bearing fruit. As John 15 says, these branches need to be removed. Even areas that are bearing fruit may need to be pruned to allow for future growth. In basketball terms, some old “plays” may need to be scrapped to make way for new items in the “playbook.”
4. Develop a plan of attack for the second half. Write down some expectations of the types of things you want to teach and experience before your children leave home. What traits or qualities do you want them to have? How will you teach or foster that characteristic? What skills do they need to thrive in the 21st century? How can you help them be prepared?
Simple steps like teaching them to make their own appointments, fill out their own paper work, handle issues with their classwork, have some sort of job, do household chores, or manage their money are all important in launching them out into the world. However, these will not happen if you do not make space for them. No need to cram it all in at the end when they probably are not really listening anyway! Taking it one step further, what can you do to support the faith development of your children? How will you help them claim a faith that is their own? (For resources on helping with faith formation in older children, teens, and young adults, read Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future by Kara E. Powell and Steven Argue.)
5. Encourage with a pep talk. Let’s admit — it is going to be a bit scary and awkward out there. Their peers have likely all had very different experiences during this time. Some friendships will have run their course and others will be thriving in new ways. There will be seismic shifts in friend groups and uncertainty about where they stand with particular people.
Helping them recognize their own good qualities and also the relationships they want to put effort into will help them navigate this weird time. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess 5:11). They are going to need you in their corner in profound ways. I once heard it said that you get fewer words your children actually listen to each year as they grow. Since you may not get in as many words in during the coming years, you need to make the ones you say count. Good coaches remind the team of the plan, but they also give encouragement and highlight each player’s strength. They set up the players to be successful.
Hopefully, you can use this halftime to better prepare your family for what is to come. In the second half, do not be afraid to use timeouts when you feel things have gone off course. If you have prepared a plan during this halftime, you should be able to refer back to it during these quick timeouts. With some intentionality in this season, you will likely be “cutting down the nets” of success at the end of the game.
Sarah Blackwell is a former middle school girls “B” team basketball coach who once used halftimes to remind her players which goal they were now shooting on. She graduated from Gardner-Webb School of Divinity in December 2020, but her most important role is coaching with her husband on Team Blackwell which consists of two boys, 13 and 10, that know way more about sports than her. She lives in the basketball-obsessed state of North Carolina. Follow her writings at proximitytolove.org.