Back-to-School and Setting the Tone
by Soren & Ever Johnson
Our kids have recently returned to school, and you’re likely in the same boat. With so many checklists—from new clothes to haircuts, shoes to school supplies—these days can be overwhelming and exhausting.
For us, these days also come with a little wistfulness, knowing that our oldest son is heading into his last year of high school. He’s got a lot of perspective, so we asked him, “If you could tell parents one thing about the first week of school, what would it be? What does faith have to do with the first day of school?”
Before we share his answer, allow us to set the scene. We had just picked him up from a three-hour football practice in the rain, and he had thrown a mountain of sopping wet football gear into the trunk. Let’s just say that the interior of the minivan was pungent, so we opened all the windows to allow for a needed breeze.
“Parents are tone-setters,” Owen began, matter-of-factly, raising his voice over the noise of the traffic. He continued, “I’d say that in the first week of school, parents have an opportunity to set a winning tone, a tone that includes faith.”
The cornerback who is less than two weeks away from his first game continued: “When you head out onto the field, the first few plays are critical in setting the tone for the rest of the game. I guess it’s like that with school. If you don’t get out there to win as a family, then the weeks are going to go by in a haze, and somewhere around Thanksgiving, you’ll say, ‘Hey, what just happened?’”
We had just pulled into the driveway—and with his question hanging in the air, he hopped out of the car, grabbed his fragrant pile of gear, and headed in for the much-needed laundry and shower.
We can’t top our son’s game-day pep talk—so we’ll just offer a few practical ways parents can set a winning tone in the days ahead:
- Get back to (if you’re out of practice) the Rosary or evening prayer, bedtime prayer, and morning prayer. In the lead-up to Day #1, as we prepare for earlier bedtimes and mornings, we can do more than just lay out clothes and prep lunches. “The family that prays together stays together,” said Fr. Patrick Peyton. If your family prayer times have slipped over the summer, begin setting the tone by getting back on track with some combination of the evening family Rosary, tuck-in prayers, and morning prayer (“Dear God, I offer you this day,” “Angel of God, my guardian dear,” etc.) before heading out the door to school.
- Go to Confession as a family. If it’s been a while, consider putting Confession on your family calendar before Day #1. What better way to tone-set for the new academic year than by being renewed in the Lord’s mercy, healing, and forgiveness?
- Mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year with a family celebration of gratitude. As our son noted, it’s easy for the seasons of life to bleed together. Instead, consider a family cook-out, excursion, or other fun time together as a way to shift gears and set the tone for your family’s next chapter. As parents, set the tone at that celebration by sharing why you are thankful to God—perhaps for a blessing your family experienced this summer, or for the new season that is beginning.
When our son was dispensing his wisdom about first-day game plans, the key tone-setter he had in mind was his coach. Nearly every day this summer, the coach’s directives, quotes, and moods have been relayed to us at the dinner table—always in a respectful tone.
Lest we forget, parents are the original tone-setters. The Catechism notes that we are our children’s first evangelists, first catechists, and first teachers. Given this, we can do much better than sending our kids out into a “haze.”
Yes, let’s tone-set. Let’s call them into the huddle, focus them on the love and mission our Lord and Savior has for each of them, and send them out onto the field with the clarity and confidence that belongs to them as sons and daughters of the King!
“Lord, look upon these students. Let them enjoy their learning and take delight in new discoveries. Help them to persevere in their studies and give them the desire to learn all things well. Look upon their teachers. Let them strive to share their knowledge with gentle patience and endeavor always to bring the truth to eager minds. Grant that students and teachers alike may follow Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, for ever and ever!” (cf. Book of Blessings, International Commission on English in the Liturgy).