Family Back-to-school Blessings
A few weeks ago, as the first day of school approached for my first first-grader, who was going to school for the first time, my husband turned to me one evening and said, “It’s not uncommon in our faith tradition for children to have a blessing before starting the new school year. Should we do that?”
“We should if we do it together.” I replied.
“Well, of course.” he responded. “How should we do it?”
“Let’s tag team. One person starts, the other person adds on, then we end it together.”
We’ve each blessed our children throughout their lives — as babies and toddlers, when they couldn’t sleep, or been sick, or felt afraid, or felt unhappy — but this was the first time we were blessing the same child together at the same time, each with our own unique words.
On the evening before school began, we approached our child and asked, “Would you like a special prayer blessing from Mama and Daddy before you start school tomorrow?” After hearing us describe what we were planning to do, he decided he did want it. We all sat together on our big bed, with my son on my lap, and our pre-schooler and toddler bouncing on the pillows nearby.
My husband and I both put our hands together on our child’s head. Not knowing quite what language would feel the most comfortable, I began the blessing like a prayer to God, referring to my child in the third person as I petitioned God for all the wishes in my mother-heart for my child as he was about to do something new and brave. I prayed for him to be an includer, to have a calm mind for learning, to be creative, to be confident in trying to new things, to give people lots of chances to be his friend, to be kind and show empathy to others. When I had exhausted my list of hopes and wishes for him, I nodded to my husband and he continued with his blessing. He shifted the language to the first person and addressed his blessing directly to our child. In that moment, I felt a slight embarrassment in my unfamiliarity with blessing language — I had wanted to address my child directly but didn’t know quite how to start it. Did I have to call him by name and state some sort of authority? I’m his mother who loves him, did I need any more authority to bless and wish goodness on his life than that?
In my mind, a battle ensued: Was it a “Priesthood” blessing because my husband and I hold the Priesthood together, because we were sealed in the temple together? Was is not a “Priesthood” blessing at all, because I have no Priesthood ordination? Did that make it more or less efficacious if so? Did authority need to be stated at all, or could we both just say our blessings from our hearts and God would see our righteous intent as loving parents?
I agree with one of my favorite podcast hosts, Vanessa Zoltan, when she says,
“What I love about blessings is that… I feel like when you bless something you are tapping into your most vulnerable wish for someone and I just think that when you bless something you are admitting you have no power over something but you are hoping with every fiber of your being.”
Just as I was coming to the conclusion that a beautiful blessing from parents to their child needs no categorization or qualifiers, my two younger children quietly and eagerly added their hands to the pile on top of their brother’s head and left them there until the blessing was finished. They all giggled in delight afterward. The children all said, “me next! me next!” and the next child climbed onto my lap with a smile. My blessing language came much easier the second time, and our two pairs of adult hands were again joined by two pairs of children’s hands. “Me next, me next!” came the third call, and all of our children were blessed by both parents, with siblings participating with their hands and intent. I believe these three children were blessed by a quartet of parents this night, that the deepest wishes spoken by their earthly parents were in accord with the wishes and blessings from their Heavenly Parents.
Realizing that we weren’t finished for the night, my astute 6-year old declared, “Now Mama blesses Daddy, and Daddy blesses Mama!” It was obvious to him that everyone should have a blessing that night, and we can all bless each other, of course! My thoughts went momentarily to the story of Emma Smith wanting a blessing and Joseph telling her to write out her own blessing and that he would sign it. Why not bless everyone around you, and yourself while at it! God is good and generous!
I looked at my husband quizzically. I had never blessed him before. It was a rare and precious gift to reach deep into my heart and pull out wishes and blessings for my husband, with four sets of hands on his head. In the blessing language, my expressed desires for him to manage his time successfully to allow for work, family, and his own personal creative endeavors didn’t feel like nagging or advice, just what a wife wishes for her husband to be happy and fulfilled.
He in turn gave a blessing to me (with 3 assistants) and mentioned things like: how important it is for me to take time to be involved in good causes outside our family, for clarity in how to improve my business, and words of gratitude for my patience in motherhood. It was nice to hear what was on his mind and heart for me, too.
When we were all finished, a calm cheerfulness rested in the room. It felt like a family co-operative; nobody was there on business, nobody cited authority over anyone else. The language was familiar and child-friendly, and not formulaic or administrative. In the end, we really all did bless each other, and the peaceful unity in our family that night felt warm and kind.
I think Family Back-to-School Blessings will be a tradition every year.