After-school restraint collapse is a fancy name for when your child comes home from school and crumbles into pieces. They are grumpy, tired, hungry and overwhelmed. And it can lead to a very unpleasant afternoon for both you and them.
Even after we found out my son’s miserable mood at the end of the school day had an official name, afternoons were still really difficult. I couldn’t help but keep my expectations high when he would sprint off the bus to meet me, flash a bright smile, and squeeze my hand. But the second we walked in the door, my cheerful child’s attitude completely changed. Nothing could make him happy. The snack was salty when it should have been sweet, the water didn’t have enough ice, he already told me: school was GOOD.
As the days went on, my patience began to wear even more thin. I desperately tried to be the calm and peaceful mommy he needed but every day felt like a game of trial and error—what was the magical formula that would provide a peaceful afternoon for my son? A bigger snack? More water? Less questions? We couldn’t seem to get it right.
Then one day, feeling exasperated, I just sat with him. We came inside, I gave him a big hug, a big snack, and then…silence. We sat at the table together while he ate, neither of us saying a word. And he was calm and content. And so was I. When he was finished eating, he gave me a genuine smile and we moved on to the next part of the day. And that was that.
I didn’t ask how gym was or if anything made him laugh at school. I didn’t ask whether he got chocolate milk or white milk at lunch or if anyone was absent. While I still wanted to know all the answers, I realized those after-school questions were for me, not for him. What he needed at this moment was my presence, not my conversation. He needed me to simply be near, sitting with him and nothing else. I had to accept that that might mean I didn’t get answers then or maybe not at all.
It occurred to me that I had painted this picture of what our post-school afternoons should look like—a special time of talking, sharing and connecting. I felt pressured to ask for details about his day so that he felt loved enough and knew how much I missed him. Of course, I was curious about what happened at school because “it was good” wasn’t quite cutting it for me. But once I was able to let go of my expectations, I was able to recognize that simply being with my son was what he needed. Sitting together was enough. He still felt loved and he still knew I missed him. He valued that time of connecting. It just looked different, and sounded quieter than I expected.
But once I was able to let go of my expectations, I was able to recognize that simply being with my son was what he needed
Now, that’s our routine—it’s our magical formula. It’s what keeps us calm and connected in our own unique way. I no longer dread the afternoons. I know I’m giving my son just what he needs, and instead I savor the silence.
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