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Sep 19

Don’t Trust Your Instincts

I know – it flies in the face of conventional parenting wisdom.  You always are supposed to trust your instincts as a parent, when that little voice tells you that the fever is something serious, get it checked.  When your child answers “nothing” in an innocent tone of voice when you holler in to see what’s going on, and your instincts tell you otherwise, most often they’re in the middle of something they shouldn’t be doing.  And when your instincts tell you that your child is scared and vulnerable and anxious, and wants only to be picked up and comforted – don’t do it.

At least not without really thinking about it.

I’m a comforter by nature with my kids.  I’m a crappy playmate, I never play barbies or army guys, and I’ve only ever played Candy Land a handful of times.  I let them play outside without direct supervision, don’t care all that much about if they sleep in my bed or theirs or on the couch.  I’m pretty strict about somethings, but one thing I do exceptionally well is comfort.  I held my babies as much as I could.  I nursed well into toddlerhood, and if a kid is crying, I’m pretty sure that we both agree that the best place to do it is in my arms.  I don’t leave them with sitters (although that’s more financial than anything else), and I hate dropping them off anywhere when they don’t want to go.

Dropping Julie at preschool was hellish.  For both of us – and all my instincts were screaming at me to scoop her up and bring her home.  She didn’t HAVE to go – I was just going home anyway.  She’s only three and a half, for God’s sake.  Why should I be dropping my sobbing sad baby girl off with strangers in the first place?    Especially because she would go up into the castle and curl up in a fetal position – and it felt completely like I was putting her in a cage for two hours to cry until I came to get her.

But, as we finish up her second week of preschool, I’m so incredibly glad that I didn’t cave and bring her home with me.  She’s so proud of herself!  She’s still not 100% convinced that she loves preschool, and still gets a little misty at drop off – but she settles down so fast and then she’s out there running around and playing with everyone.  She talks about preschool all the time, is full of stories about her new friends and things that Miss Lilia says and was so proud of the picture she made for me today.

Because what’s best isn’t what’s easiest.  If I had taken her home, the way I wanted to, the way she wanted me to – she would have missed all this.  She wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see that she could do it without me, that she could trust that the people there would take care of her, and that she could make new friends and explore the sandbox and make pictures with puffy paint.

Sam’s had some major anxiety issues, and in all the research I’ve done, the one thing that struck me the most was that with a kid who’s suffering from anxiety, comforting them just reinforces the fear.  It teaches them that they can’t do it without you, that they are right to feel afraid, and that the only safe place is with you.  As a mother, that’s such a HARD concept, and if I hadn’t experienced it first hand, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I don’t entirely blame myself for the struggles Sam faced starting school.  Looking back, there are things I could have done that might have made it easier, but I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.  And Sam is a different child than Julie is – as freaked out as Julie was, Sam was a lot more traumatized by starting school.  But leaving her at school went against everything I wanted to do – and I’m so, so glad that I did it.  Because Girlfriend loves preschool, and I can see how happy and proud she is.


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