Friday, August 1, 2008

Mommy, Don't Leave!

Separation anxiety.

I always tell people that my oldest daughter had terrible separation anxiety. That it was hard for her to be away from me. When she started preschool, it was terrible - she would cry and beg me to stay, and I would, sometimes for the whole day.

Looking back, I now think it was me with the separation anxiety. I hated leaving my daughter with anyone that wasn't me - only I knew what was best for my child. No one could possibly understand her as well as I could, and take care of her needs the same way that I could. That list of no one included her father, her grandparents, and pretty much anyone who wasn't me. Obviously, I thought quite highly of myself.

When it was time to start preschool, I had done my homework. I researched (at the library, no less, this was back when AOL was new-fangled) and studied about all the different types of preschools there were - and there were, and are still, many different schools of thought in the preschool world. Montessori, cooperative, Reggio Emilio, Waldorf - yikes! But I studied each one and visited countless preschools. The school I finally chose - where I teach now - offered a warm, loving environment, had a cooperative philosophy, and was highly recommended by not only parenting publications in my area, but other parents. I visited this school a number of times, with my daughter, and felt really good about my decision.

Then why couldn't I leave her? Why did I have to stay with her and hold her hand? Because she was crying, and what kind of mom would I be if I left her when she was crying?

As the time for beginning preschool approached, I had numerous conversations with my daughter about preschool. I talked a lot about how big she was, how she would make lots of friends, how much I would miss her and how I would count the minutes until I came to pick her up. Looking back - I gave a lot a baggage to a three year old; did she really need to feel responsible for me missing her? Or that I would be so lonely I would count minutes until she was back with me again? No wonder she cried, and didn't want me to leave.

And during these crying sessions at drop off, I would hold her and cry too, more often than not. I would tell her that school is really short, and that I would be back real soon. I even promised her I would wait in the car, and wouldn't leave in case she needed me. And believe it or not, I did just that.

So, what did I teach my daughter in those early years? That it was her job to make me happy. That I was not OK when she was at school. That it wasn't OK for her to be away from me, because I was sad. That she should be with me and not at school. That she was responsible for my happiness.

OK, guilt maybe forcing me to lay it on a bit thick, but when I look back to my daughter's first year of preschool, I cringe. Here I was, trying to be perfect Mom, and really, I was not making an important transition in my daughter's life very easy. Hindsight being what it is, I know now that the transition was mine too. I needed to accept that in order for my daughter to be self-confident and self reliant, that I had to allow her to be around another people. I had to trust my decisions, and allow her to venture off on her own. And I had to accept the fact that my way was NOT the only way. As a matter of fact, the more people she was exposed to, the more well-rounded and self-confident she would become.

I am lucky that my daughter's first teacher was a patient and kind woman who had experienced exactly what I was going through. She held my hand, after weeks of my angst, and assured me that if my daughter didn't stop crying in 20 minutes, that she would call me. But she was certain that if I simply said, "Good-bye, I will see you when school is over", and left - the campus - that my daughter would be fine. And eventually the tears would stop, and before I knew it she would run into the classroom without a backwards glance.

And you know what? She was right.

1 comment:

José said...

I remember those days… and yes, it was always you that had problems, her not so much… Don’t worry, you didn’t scar her for life or anything like that. Kids are amazing creatures. She saw you needed something and she provided it. You needed her to need you desperately and she did… Many parents go through this and it’s fascinating to watch…

Wait, did WE pick the school?

I love you.