|Daniel's face at drop-off is sadder than this|
Each morning, when I drop Daniel off at school, as I say goodbye, he clings to me. He says, “I want my mommy to stay,” makes the saddest face anyone has ever seen, and often bursts into tears. I hate this.
But with the help of some friends and some books: (thank you How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk) I realized that I was making it worse by denying his feelings. By saying things like, “You love school,” or “You’re going to have fun today,” or “You’re okay,” I wasn’t permitting him to have his feelings. In point of fact, I didn’t want him to feel sad, because then I felt sad, unsure, guilty, and I hated that.
Once I realized that I’d been trying to gloss over his feelings, I began saying, “This is the hard part, saying goodbye. It’s okay to be sad.” This simple statement, said with sincerity, defuses his sadness pretty quickly. Earlier this week, he actually let go of me, and I didn’t have to peel his little fingers off my hand or leg.
A friend said to me recently that he found in parenting his children, he was really parenting himself. This started me thinking about how I don’t acknowledge my own “bad” feelings. I do have a naturally sunny temperament, but I also have a tendency to stuff or deny feelings like sadness, guilt, anger, fear. Because I don’t like feeling them, I pretend that I don’t. Each time I tell Daniel it’s okay to be sad, I’m telling myself the same thing. I need that message as much as he does, maybe more.
Besides changing my strategy at drop-off, I also try to remember that everyone’s life has good and bad, comfort and discomfort, every day. I cannot prevent Daniel from experiencing discomfort. Of course I hate the idea of him suffering, but knowing that it’s not my job to prevent it allows me to breathe.
So what can I do? I can acknowledge his feelings, listen to him without judgment. And I can give us all some extra leeway during transitions.
It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be guilty and unsure. The more I accept these feelings, welcome them even, explore them with curiosity, the less scary they are, the less they rule my life, the more I’m free to enjoy the good.