I spent most of my career as a Kindergarten teacher without children of my own. A big part of my job, especially when dealing with a child's first time at school, is communicating with parents. Looking back, I am appalled at how judgmental I was and how easily I gave advice that, I now know, I was not fully equipped to give. When you are not a mother, there is no way to understand the life of one. There were many days in September and beyond, where a had to tear a crying child from their mother or ask that a parent leave because it was what was best for the child. What was I basing this on? I am not really sure. Eventually the child would stop crying. Some in minutes, for others it would take months. But eventually they all adjust.
Now I am a mom. I have been taking my daughter Jane to different programs since she was 3 months old, and continue to enroll her in everything from gymnastics to art. She recently completed a gradual separation program where she had no problems and loved going to "school" for an hour, once a week. When I take stock of all of this, I feel like I have done things as best I could. So when she was ready to start nursery school last month, I thought the transition would be fine. Not so much.
Today was her fifth time there and it is not getting any easier. She cries and clings to me and asks me not to leave her. The mother in me is holding back tears while my heart is breaking, but the teacher in me pries her little hands off of me and walks out the door. The whole time she is there I feel sick and anxious. When I pick her up she cries when she sees me, but seems otherwise okay. The teachers tell me that she is crying less throughout the morning and seems to be having some fun. Back at home she has become increasingly worried about me leaving her and we have been having trouble getting her to go to bed. She is so afraid that I am going to leave.
After I dropped her off this morning, I went to see my mom at work and just broke down crying. This is killing me. Who am I doing this for? She is upset, I am upset, but everyone tells me that it is "good for her" and "she'll be fine". These are things that I once said as a teacher, but now I am on the other side of it - now it is MY child crying. It is so much harder to follow the advice than to give it. Of course I want Jane to be independent but I am confused about whether her independence needs to be forced upon her in such a way.
As we were driving home from school today, Jane was watching her favourite movie, Finding Nemo. In the opening scene, Marlin is holding Nemo's injured fish egg and claims that he will never let anything happen to him. Later in the movie, Marlin recounts this to Dory who tells him "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.". Am I Marlin? Have I worried too much or kept her too close to me? And if I am Marlin, is that such a bad thing?
I am so conflicted about sending her to school and feel like no matter what I decide, it'll be wrong. If I listen to the teacher in me, I will persevere through the pain and hope that in the end she is happy at school. But in the process I feel like I am losing her faith in me. She doesn't understand that I am trying to do right by her. All she knows is that I am leaving her scared and alone in a place she doesn't want to be. If I listen to the Marlin in me, I will stop taking her and try again in September when she may be more ready to handle it. But even if I do this she may still cry and I'll know that I should have just gotten it all over with now. And then there is the added pressure of what the other moms will think - that I'm a bad mom dragging my poor child to school when she isn't ready, or that I'm a bad mom for indulging my child's fears and sheltering her home.
My mind is racing, my heart is in pieces and I am trying to figure out what is right. When it comes to parenting, I have learned that the word "right" is not an absolute. What is right for our family may not be right for another. What is right for my first child may not be for my second. I have to try not to worry about how my decisions are being perceived but rather how they are affecting the people who matter most to me. Once again, advice that is much easier to give than take.