Summer to Fall: Tips for Managing Seasonal Adjustments
Jim looked over at his wife at the end of a long day and sighed: "I can't stand having the kids back from camp. I hate to admit it. They've been home three days and they're driving me crazy."As summer comes to a close, transition stresses increase. Whether its children returning from camp, preparing for kindergarten or high school for the first time, or simply the regular adjustments fall brings in schedules, there is change. For some it's no big deal. For others little changes pile up and it can become overwhelming. Wherever you fall on the continuum, what follows are some tips on how to view handling transitions you might consider.As a professor of classical literature, William Bridges was fascinated with the topic of transitions. As result, he wrote two books on transitions and changed careers to work with families and businesses during times of change. In his first book, Transitions : Making Sense of Life's Changes, he points out the obvious. Transitions have three parts - a beginning, middle and end. He goes on to explain that we all have a preference for how we do endings. Think for a minute, he suggests, about when you tend to leave a party. Are you the first to go and restless if you stay too long? Do you prefer to be the last to leave and have a hard time saying good night? Or are you a middle of the pack person who leaves when most folks leave?Taking a look at how we handle beginnings and endings in our major life decisions gives us some clues about how we handle minor adjustments. Are you a bit impulsive and prefer to charge into the next experience? If your child is a little more tentative, getting ready for kindergarten can become traumatic for both of you. Or if you are a lingerer at parties and slow with good-by, it may add to your resentment that the children are back from camp, your quiet time as a couple is over, and summer is in the rear view mirror. Or slowness with goodbye's might result in some reluctance to sending your budding young adult off to high school or college.Bridges also points out that the middle time is perhaps the most difficult for us during change. He calls it a neutral zone, a time of not knowing. It's like being in the hallway and not knowing where the door will lead. The door is not ready to open yet. For the impatient, this neutral zone can be crazy-making. We follow our instincts and plunge ahead with more action believing that will force the door open. More times than not, however, it doesn't and our frustration grows. Doing nothing is often the wisest choice when we are in the middle of a transition.In that gap between buying all the supplies and new clothes and the first day of school, there may not be anything more to do but relax and enjoy the last few days of summer. Unless we can recognize and appreciate the neutral zone, many of us miss this opportunity and continue with unnecessary activity and worry.Here are some tips one might find useful in adjusting to the transition bumps that come with the end of summer and the beginning of fall:1) Pay attention to what's beginning and ending. (bold) Children and adults alike become attached to things we enjoy. Whether it's a refreshing swim at the outdoor pool or a new friend who is leaving, something important is coming to an end for each member of your family. Similarly if we think about it, something significant is probably beginning as well. Encourage each other to talk about beginnings and endings. Respect them and the feelings that go with them.2) Observe your preference in handling transitions. (bold) Remember the song "Forty Ways to Leave your Lover"? There are a lot of ways to handle all transitions, big or small. Take a look at your patterns and those of your family. Ask yourself if the way you handle changes is getting in the way of personal or family harmony. Stretch a little and try a new way of handling beginnings or endings.3) Respect the neutral zone and try to enjoy it. (bold) Accepting that a change is occurring is the first step to being at peace with it. Understanding that there are times when doing nothing is the perfect response can give you back a lot of time and energy. You may not become comfortable with the neutral zone over night. With practice, you can recognize it sooner and decide whether more action is really going to help or not.4) Be alert for the gifts of what appears as insignificant. (bold) Schools open every fall. Summer schedules and child care arrangements end and families adjust. In these simple changes are wonderful opportunities to nurture and learn. Is there someone special your child has spent a lot of time with this summer that he or she is saying good-by to? How might you help express his feelings whatever they are? You may be relieved that the chaotic patch quilt of summer child care is over. How do your children feel about returning to school and aftercare? Talking about small changes makes it easier to deal with bigger ones when they occur.5) Detach from the results and enjoy the process. (bold) Sometimes our focus on goals and results deludes us into thinking we can control other people and outcomes. Generally we can't. We can make plans and do our best. Learning to detach emotionally from how those you care about experience changes makes transitions a lot more peaceful for you and those around you. While it's a lot easier to talk about going with the flow than to do it, ultimately accepting and enjoying the adjustments life offers increases our joy and happiness.Summer becomes fall every year. Most of us face some adjustments with that change. Perhaps attention to what's beginning and ending might make this annual passage more pleasant for you and those you share it with.SIDEBAR The following resources are suggested in dealing with transitions: Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, William Bridges, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company Al-Anon literature about detachment, particularly The Courage to Change or How Al-Anon Works, available through local Al-Anon meetings or by calling Al-Anon Information at 1-800-443-4525.Frank Thomas, MSW writes regularly for newspapers around the country on topics of personal and professional growth and development.