Emily is going through a developmental stage that I am not enjoying: separation anxiety.
She recently switched classrooms from the baby/toddler room to the older toddler room at her wonderful daycare. She has the same two teachers Jack had as a little fellow. We know and trust their abilities to be warm, engaging, and appropriate with our children.
Prior to this classroom change, Emily trotted confidently into school, squealing for glee. She would enter her room and barely even glance back at me.
But these last few weeks, she begins to cry almost as soon as we pull into the parking lot. She clings to me as we walk down the hallway, and begs me to pick her up when we get to her class.
You have to understand she is a really easy kid to soothe. To see her miserable, anxious, and difficult to redirect is truly concerning.
This morning she clung to me, begging for her blanket, pacifier, Cookie Monster.
“Momeee! Momeee!” she screamed if my embrace faltered for one moment.
I sat down at a table to show her some toys and engage her with her cohorts. She seemed interested, but as soon as I tried to slide her off my lap she bawled.
The younger of her two teachers sat down next to us and chirped, “Mommy is going to leave now! It’s going to be hard, but we are going to do it fast, just like pulling off a bandaid!”
I then punched her in the face.
Okay. So, I didn’t punch her in the face, but I was tempted. How dare she suggest that I was going to leave my distraught child as casually as removing a used up, old bandaid?
I’ve never left Emily crying at daycare. And I only did it a couple times with Jack until I realized how awful it felt. It just feels wrong in the deepest pit of my mommy gut.
Much to this young teacher’s chagrin, I stayed with Em on my lap and attempted to soothe her. Her other teacher, a kindly and slightly older woman (read: more grace and experience than that young upstart), came over and offered to indulge Emily in her latest obsession, hand washing. We walked towards the little sinks, but when I started to inch my way to the door, again Em started to weep.
I snatched her up, on the verge of tears myself.
“I’ve never left her crying at daycare,” I explained to her teacher. “I’m sorry. I just won’t do it. I don’t believe in it.”
I had said nearly these exact words five years ago to one of Jack’s teachers. I understand that it might be easier for them to “rip off the bandaid,” but for me and my child it is just awful. I also do not believe that it instills trust and confidence in my child. So, I’ve made a reputation for myself as a “high maintenance mother.”
Emily’s teacher could feel my pain. She reassured me and suggested I go for a walk with my daughter to help her “reset.”
We walked to one of the baby rooms and peered in the windows. Emily is enamored of babies. The sight of the tiny tots calmed her instantly. We hugged and I talked to her gently about what the babies were doing.
With one more kiss and hug, I was able to drift out knowing she was calm and comfortable.
Anguish knotted in my stomach as I drove to work. Although it was a relief for me to leave Emily in a state of peace, I felt I caused her teachers trouble. Then my cell phone rang.
It was Emily’s teacher calling to say that looking at the babies worked really well. They found a doll that Emily really liked. With the baby in her arms she made it back into her class for circle time with her buddies. Her teacher said they could try that from now on to make the transition easier for us all.
She said, “I could see how hard it was for you. I thought a little call to let you know that she was okay might ease your mind a little bit.”
Profusely, I thanked her.
I’m not the best mother, and I don’t know if I did the right thing today. I do know I will never regret it. I will never regret holding and comforting my child.
Rather than creating more anxiety, I believe helping her transition builds healthy attachment, confidence and trust. I also know from my experience with Jack that being there to ease that separation struggle helps expedite this developmental phase.
Armed with that knowledge, I am mindful of my own anxieties and not projecting them onto my children.
I’m going to give younger teacher the benefit of the doubt and assume she wanted to make my life earlier, or keep me on schedule by attempting to initiate a fast drop off. I’m going to assume she just didn’t know that is NOT my style. I also hope maybe she learned something today.
But it makes me wonder why the heck we are always in such a rush to rip off the bandaid?
Why are we so quick to push our kids on to the next step before they are emotionally, developmentally, or cognitively ready? What is wrong with taking our time and helping a child to get comfortable and confident before foisting them onto the next new thing?