Setting: The cafeteria in a big public school
Event: Kindergarten welcome breakfast
Characters: More squealing 5 year olds than you can imagine with the occasional frazzled grown-up thrown in for contrast
It was time for the parents to go.
Squeezed between a cafeteria table and attached bench, I was planning my exit. Assuming that I could still physically extract myself from the table (there was some question here), the bigger question remained. How should I leave my daughter, my youngest daughter, on her first day of kindergarten?
Should I act casual, like it was all no big deal? “Have a great day, honey! See you later!” Should I acknowledge that this was a big moment, and make the break slowly? “We love you so much, sweetie, and we’re so proud of you. You’re going to have a great day, and I can’t wait to hear all about it.”
And while I was composing my speech, I overheard a conversation across the table.
A mother was saying her goodbye. She stood up. “Well, this is Kindergarten,” she said, “You’re on your own now. Do you hear me?” The little girl stared solemnly. “You behave. I don’t want to get called,” she continued, and then repeated, “You’re on your own now. Do you hear me?” And without another word, or even a hug, she walked away.
And the little girl? She returned to her breakfast, and then to her puzzle, seemingly unfazed. The teacher called her named and she smiled broadly, “I’m here, teacher!”
I looked down at my daughter, who was clinging to me. She was trying so hard to be brave. The teacher called and she slowly dis-attached herself. “Bye Mama,” she whispered. I blew her a kiss, and she joined her class.
She was on her own now.
While the words of the mother-across-the-table were harsh, there is truth in them. We are constantly preparing our kids to be on their own–and it makes me wonder…
How can we prepare our children, and ourselves, for moments of letting go? This may be the million dollar question of parenting–not just what kind of parents will we be when we are with them, but what kind of children (and soon, adults) will they be when we are not with them?
Because I know that kindergarten is just the beginning.
What are your thoughts about preparing your kids to be increasingly on their own? What do you remember about this from your own childhood? What have you learned by watching other people parent their kids? And if you have ’em, what have you learned from parenting your own?