If you’ve ever been part of an infant or toddler play group, you know that one of the first topics of conversations among moms is preschool and kindergarten. It’s right up there with breast feeding, toilet training, and a child’s first steps. After walking, school represents the next big step toward independence.
For a new parent, the idea of school is an exciting, but frightening, prospect. What? I’m going to let my child spend three to five mornings a week with a group of strange children and a teacher I don’t know anything about? No way! The very thought just makes you want to hold them close and never let go.
I remember looking at each of my daughters when they were babies, knowing that they were totally dependent on me for their every need. Ever have that feeling? We all know there’s something wonderfully rewarding about being needed so completely. Being loved unconditionally satisfies a deep psychological need that exists in each of us.
That’s the up side, of course. The down side is that they’re totally dependent on you for their every need—when they’re sick, thirsty—even if it’s in the middle of the night. It can be exhausting. And exasperating. But let’s face it—that’s what parenting is all about.
Because the urge to protect our children is so strong, we have to be on guard not to become overprotective. Parenting is about caring for, nurturing, and providing for our children. But it’s also about letting go. The process begins the day they’re born and continues throughout your life and theirs. Some of us have to work at it harder than others. I know, because letting go has been a real issue for me. I like being in control and having everything go according to plan. But that’s not real life. Especially not life with children.
My friend Kaye and I raised our six children together. She has three boys and I have three girls, all about the same age. When her boys were little I watched them wrestle on the living room floor, run through mud puddles, and do wheelies on their bikes. None of this seemed to bother Kaye. If my girls had been doing those things, I would have had heart failure. I know, girls are different. Yes, most are, though I’ve taught several little girls who could hold their own. But the difference wasn’t so much about our children; it was about the way we parented. Kaye had learned to let go. I hadn’t. More than once she told me that I needed to “let out the rope” and let them be kids. She was right.
Instead of seeing my children as possessions to control—often so I can appear competent to outsiders—I have learned to see my children as gifts entrusted to my care for a season. From day one, it’s been up to me to begin the process of letting go and preparing them to be healthy, autonomous individuals. That’s not easy, of course, but, as a parent, it’s my job. And preparing them for school is just one step in that long, arduous journey.
I will never forget when we sent our first child off to college. As parents, this is one of the most exciting, and frightening, things we have ever done. While we missed Hannah’s face at the dinner table, it did help knowing that she was just eight miles down the road. As it turned out, Hannah’s freshman year couldn’t have been better—she made new friends, engaged in campus life, and excelled academically. When faced with difficult choices, she made wise decisions and did so with maturity and grace.
Then one day it occurred to me: We’ve launched a successful adult. I can’t tell you how great it feels to know that you’ve equipped your child, however imperfectly, for life on her own. While I realize this new journey with Hannah is just beginning, we feel she’s gotten off to an impressive start.
Letting go necessarily requires a level of comfort and trust. That’s especially true when you begin thinking about sending your child to school. In my next post I’ll discuss some of the things you’ll want to consider as you begin thinking about choosing a school for your child. Until then, happy parenting.
– excerpted from How to Prepare for Kindergarten: Getting Your Child and Yourself Ready for Day One. All rights reserved.