My littlest girl started Pre-School/Kindy today. She’s the last of the four so it seems like a big deal, although every first has been momentous. This time though I’m really taking notice. Initially we had her enrolled for term three last year in Darwin, but then we moved, and she got an extra six months at home. In hindsight, that six months was very much-needed.
This is her first introduction to formalised care. She’s never been to child care or even spent much time with other people apart from Boatman. Most of her four and a half years have been with me constantly, and that’s been ok. That’s been good. It was the same for her siblings. They also spent all their time at home, and we did activities together, as well as attend organised activities like playgroup. It’s what worked for us as a family.
When it has come time for school to start, we’ve never had a problem with separation. The older three all went happily with various degrees of trepidation or excitement, but mostly excitement. I assumed it would be the same with Ava.
I can gratefully tell you that this morning, it was. Whilst this week has seen a reluctance of preparation (“don’t talk about kindy mummy!”), and there was a great deal of hesitation about actually getting out of the car today, followed by some teary clinginess, when it came time for me to leave, she separated well and easily.
It was a miracle.
Last term of last year, she had five transition days; five mornings attending Kindy like a regular kid to get her head around it. Four of those days she cried horribly when I left. Three of them she had to be physically taken out of my arms. The other day I stayed. She had incredible anxiety over those initial weeks. There was vomiting and feelings of nausea. She didn’t sleep well, and often woke up crying. She was adamant she would not go again.
You can imagine how great that was for me. I felt awful. I would spend the week between visits, trying to be encouraging, without talking about it. (Just about impossible.) I questioned EVERYTHING. The school, my parenting, her mental state. We visited other Kindys to look at options (they were full but the positive side of that was she decided hers was best). I managed to burst into tears to a complete stranger over the whole thing and then have her discuss ‘my anxiety’ with me. It was quite the humiliating experience.
I noticed something too.
When your child first leaves you for daycare/kindy/school, and they trot off happily without a backward glance, it’s hard for a parent. We all want to feel needed by our kids, and it suddenly seems we aren’t. Other parents help by making comments like, “well that just means they are a happy, well-adjusted child,” and everyone smiles and feels better. Because it’s true; if your child can part easily it’s probably because they are confident in who they are, and they understand that you will come back and get them. It’s a wonderful moment. As a parent you’ve done well. Great job. 🙂
When your child doesn’t part easily, people give you advice. Advice that may, or may not work. Advice that may be completely pointless. (Such as, “you probably should have put her in some care when she was younger?” Sure, cause I can go back in time, and whose to say she wouldn’t have been upset then?) But there’s not a lot that anyone can say that doesn’t have you wondering if the fact that your child is not waving goodbye, is because they are an ‘unhappy, unwell-adjusted child.’ Because that makes sense right? If they act the opposite, then they must be the opposite.
For five weeks last term I spent a good amount of time feeling like a failure as a parent, because I hadn’t managed to raise this child who would wave me off, and have me wondering if I was necessary. Instead I had one that seemed co-dependent, and who was probably suffering anxiety that she inherited from her mother. (Which is not the case. Yes we were both anxious, but we don’t suffer anxiety.) The fact that my other three children were fine at the same age, had no bearing in my mind. I was emotional and upset, and trying to not be (because it was effecting her), made me even more so. Nothing like thinking you’re making your mistakes worse.
Then one day, a thought occurred to me; just because she was upset about me leaving, it didn’t mean I had failed. I wasn’t a bad mum. Not at all. It is simply a reflection of who she is as a person. She’s a cautious kid, who takes time to warm up to things. A lot of time. With a lot of things. And she was being asked to trust a complete stranger to look after her as well as I do, with me not around at the time. That’s a big ask for anyone; for her it was huge.
All kids are different. All kids are going to react to situations differently. Just because some are more timid than others doesn’t make them any less happy, or healthy, or well-adjusted. It just makes them different. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. Difference is always good.
And so I wanted to write this to say this: if your child walks off happily on their first day of whatever, leaving you feeling like a shadow with no purpose, rejoice in it. Congratulate yourself. You’ve done well, and raised an extraordinary person. And if you’re the mum whose walking away trying not to cry because the teacher pried your sobbing child out of your arms, take heart. You’re just as successful, and your offspring is just as extraordinary. They just need a little more time.
But they will get there.
And so will you. xx