Have you ever heard the sound of true angst? I believe it sounds just like an unwilling child about to be dropped off at school, crying his little eyes out, sobbing and begging his mom to please oh please don’t make him stay. Absolutely, heart-breaking. Want to know one of the hardest moments in parenting? Being strong enough to gently-but-firmly kiss that very same sobbing child goodbye, entrust him to the teachers, and walk out the door. There are few harder moments in parenting; it must rank right up there in the top 5.
This leave-your-sobbing-child moment is one of those moments where you have to trust yourself (these will happen repeatedly, so listen carefully). Trust that you chose the appropriate day care/preschool/nanny/babysitter/etc. Trust that you made a wise and sound choice with the person and/or place that you no doubt laboriously picked to tend your child. Trust that no harm or evil will come to your child while someone else is on watch. Trust that your child’s peers will be kind to him, and that he will learn something new or good and have at least one positive experience that day. Trust that another person can take care of your child. Trust that no matter how heart-breaking his crying is, it will slow soon after you leave. Trust that he will not remember this experience and have it haunt him while sitting on the psychiatrist’s couch later in life. Walk out the door. Say goodbye first, tell him when he will see you again, give him a kiss and go.
You know why you have to go? Because if you relent, your child will have won that battle. And trust me when I say this, the next one will not go in your favor. The next battle will be even more awful, because your child now knows what to do to win. Awful, isn’t it? Yes, you have to be the mean one here (or what feels like it), because in the end, being mean now will help him later. He will know he can rely on himself to calm down, he is in a safe place, he will know that it is okay to stay at school (or day care or with the baby sitter), and he will know that you will indeed return.
You know, this same thing applies to sleep training, or to first sleepover, or wherever. Your child needs to know that he will be okay if you are not within arms reach, or in the next room. Your child needs to learn how to interact with peers and with other adults when you are not there to give him the cues. Your child needs to find out who he is when you are not telling him what parameters he must stay within. And your child needs to know that he is an individual in his own right and a very capable one at that.
Sometimes, it’s really hard to be a strong parent. Take a deep breath, trust yourself, and know that what you are trying to do is actually better for your child, even if it seems like a mean thing to do. You know, it isn’t really mean; but I do know that it feels that way. Kids need to understand that you can be separate from your favorite person, and it will be okay. Parents need to understand that they can be separate from their little people for whom they have invested so much energy, love and support and that their little people will be okay. This is a big moment. A big learning moment that you both benefit from. And it will be okay.