Family Time in the Fall – Where Did Our Play Time Go?

By Julie Burton

The picture of summer includes children playing in the sprinklers, hamburgers on the BBQ, a lawnmower at rest beside an open garage door, and an empty container of Miracle Gro waiting to be tossed in the garbage. Days are long. Dinners are late. Evenings are relaxed for many families. That is, until one day toward the end of August when school starts.

Actually, the first day of school is when many of us are forced to acknowledge that the pace of summer has been replaced by a strict routine. In reality, the change started a few weeks prior when school supplies, fall clothes, musical instruments and athletic gear needed to be acquired and assembled.

For those of us that try to savor the summer, we choose to live in denial of the changes ahead that affect families across the nation. Although denial and procrastination may prolong summer, it is not highly recommended. It only leads to kids who are not prepared for the rigorous schedule, parents who find they are scrambling to organize time and travel, and a family that struggles to prioritize unstructured time to laugh and share.

Moving from summer to fall often means the addition of new demands for both parents and kids. Lessons commence, homework is assigned, bedtimes are strictly enforced, and mornings are hurried. Parents are challenged to provide healthy snacks and meals, support extracurricular activities, and organize evenings that incorporate family communication, homework and some downtime for each member of the family.

Meeting these goals can be daunting. Cheryl Ikeda, licensed clinical therapist at Billings Clinic, suggests that preparation for the family transition can smooth the process. “Many families, parents and children alike, function better with more structure,” says Ikeda. “Plan ahead for the new needs of each member of the family and develop a realistic plan that will work.”

Just as summer is associated with hamburgers, watermelon and ice cream, it seems that the family diet undergoes transition in the fall. Breakfast must be quick. After school snacks need to be readily available. Dinners must be easily prepared and provide a combination of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and a healthy dose of protein. Again, another daunting task.

“Gourmet food is not the focus,” says Laura Bukowski, registered dietitian at Billings Clinic. “Healthy meals can be easy. Sometimes, dinner can be as simple as sandwiches and carrots.” Bukowski also stresses the importance of breakfast. “Breakfast is like fuel for your car. It helps you jump start your day and then makes sure that your body has the necessary energy to focus and perform. It also sets the tone for healthy eating habits for the entire day.”

So the best defense against the stress of change is to prepare for the new needs of the household. Stop at the grocery store and stock up on healthy snacks such as cheese sticks, whole grain crackers, fruit and smoothies. Figure out a plan to do the school shopping that will be fun for parent and child. Try to form a schedule that is feasible. Block out a little time that is unstructured. And most of all, remember to laugh went it doesn’t seem to go quite right. SFM

Julie Burton has raised both of her teenagers in Billings. Her time is shared between attending high school sport events, spending time with her family, and working in Community Relations at Billings Clinic.