Dear Anxious Mom,
While I was raised by a stay-at-home mom, it never felt like the right choice for me. If I was going to be a mom, I figured I would be a working parent and my child would go to daycare, preschool, and so on. Those options cost a lot, yes, but I knew I would need help. But once I became a mom I realized that decision was much more difficult to make. I mean, who can I trust to care for my child? How will I know they'll remain safe? In short, I was absolutely terrified of putting my kid in preschool, so please know that you're not alone.
Unfortunately, there are countless stories on the news that detail horrific cases of child abuse and neglect happening at preschools and daycares across the country. I remember my mother pointing to these stories on our television and saying, “See? This is why I never let anyone else watch you but me." I understood why she was afraid, and I was grateful that she stayed at home, but it didn't take me long to realize that those stories are few and far between, too. One case of abuse and neglect is one too many, to be sure, but most children who attend daycare or preschool are fine. They're healthy. They're happy. And now that my own son has been in preschool for nearly two years, I can tell you that not only is he fine... he's thriving.
It wasn't easy to put my kid in preschool, though. For two years my parents helped watch my son while my partner and I worked, so I didn't have to worry about the cost of child care or finding a suitable caregiver to take over while we worked outside the home. But when we moved across the country to Colorado, however, and with no friends or family, I was faced with a decision I had put off for the first two years of my child's life: I had to find childcare.
I was anxious, I could feel my depression setting in, and while I tried to work from home with my son I found the task to be nearly impossible. Still, I was terrified to put him in preschool. I lost my first baby shortly after she was born, and nearly lost my son during labor and delivery, too. The trauma of it all was still fresh, so the idea of leaving him anywhere with strangers was overwhelmingly frightening. Deep down, though, I knew it was something that needed to be done.
Finding a preschool was not exactly an easy task, either. There were interviews and waitlists and when I finally found one I liked, it took a few weeks before my son could get in. Like many moms, I scoured the internet for any sign that the school had previous problems with abuse or neglect. Thankfully, all I could find was positive reviews from happy parents and, as a result, decided to trust them. That leap of faith — to decide to trust someone else with the care and wellbeing of your child — is not easy. I was hesitant, to be sure, but eventually I let myself dive into the deep end head first.
And if I can do it, so can you.
Those first couple weeks were rough, though, and despite my willingness to trust this particular preschool with my child's safety. For a few days I would stay with my son during the day at the preschool — sort of like a trial period — and afterwards he would only attend for a few hours a day. Still, and for a while, every preschool drop off was agony and my son would inevitably cry. He wasn't alone, either. I remember crying in my car every day that first week, thinking I was somehow losing my baby instead of simply sharing his company with other people and in a safe environment where he could learn and grow and make friends. Like I said, it takes time.
But time does pass you by, and after a while it did get easier. My son stopped crying at drop off and started finding his groove. His teachers would report back on how much better he was doing with the transition and how he was starting to let go and actually sit with the other kids. Pretty soon I would be there at pick up and see my smiling, playing boy who needed a few reminders that it was, in fact, time to leave.
So while I understand your struggle, dear mom, and get why it's so hard, please know that it does get easier. It's scary, yes, but preschool can be a really great experience. Do your due diligence and research like a mad woman, yes, but leave yourself open to the idea that you will find somewhere great. Because chances are high that you will.
Ask to stick around for a day or two or three, and take your time when helping your child transition to life at preschool with other adults and kids. Take a deep breath at drop off and make it fast, if you can, but remember that any tears shed will dry and before you know it your kid will be happily playing with their playmates.
And if anything feels off, remember that you can always change your mind, move your child to another preschool, or simply reevaluate your family's situation. Nothing is set in stone.
My son is coming on two years at his preschool and the benefits have been tremendous. He has grown so much and learned so much thanks to his kind, loving teachers. Despite his occasional difficulties socializing, he’s made friends at school that he loves to come home and talk about. He has the chance to grow and thrive and learn, and I have a chance to do the work I love without constant distractions or an overwhelming feeling of guilt.
It might take you awhile to find a school that vibes with you and your child. You might even end up at more than one while you figure out what works best for you both. Your child will probably cry for a day, a week, or even a month. You will probably want to run out the door with them in your arms and tell them to forget all about school. But that can and probably will pass, and before you know it you'll be the seasoned parent comforting another anxious mom considering preschool.