I Couldn’t Leave My Crying Daughter at Preschool Drop-Off

As our kids inch closer to starting preschool we all hear the stories. The ones about peeling children off legs and peeking in preschool windows to see if your child is still crying. If you’ve got a sensitive kiddo or one who suffers from separation anxiety, chances are you’re picturing yourself in this exact scenario and hoping by some crazy stroke of luck this won’t be you.

My daughter was glued to me from the minute she came home from the hospital. I couldn’t hand her over to anyone without tears and by the time she hit toddlerhood I could barely make it to the closest store without a call from my husband telling me she was hysterical at the front door. The thought of sending her to school or even leaving her with a babysitter filled me with my own type of separation anxiety. I couldn’t imagine her being able to handle a few hours away with kids and adults she didn’t know when she couldn’t handle 15 minutes with a close family member.

As preschool inched closer I had no idea what we were going to do. I had sent her siblings with no problem, one marched in and never looked back, the other was a little nervous at first but adjusted well after a week or two. Watching this child– who could barely be a room away from me in our own house– I had no idea how either one of us were going to tough it out.

Now would be a good time to add that my daughter was a severely premature baby. She spent the first two and half months of life in an incubator on a ventilator and I sat helplessly by, waiting for her to be healthy enough for me to comfort. I don’t think it would take an expert to tell you that watching her fight for her life while being unable to quiet her tears probably played into my inability to let her cry out her horrible case of separation anxiety through her toddler years.

Despite the fact that she never left my side, we still approached preschool orientation as if three hours away from me twice a week might really happen. If she could have crawled inside my clothing while the teacher talked about a typical day in her classroom she would have been under my shirt with a ponytail sticking through my arm hole in no time. We spent the week after orientation trying to drum up a speck of excitement about the big change ahead. She spent that time pretending this was not actually happening. I swear she would have said the school building didn’t exist if someone pointed at it.

So many people told me that she would cry for a day or two and then be fine. I heard stories of children who cried for the first three months of preschool and stories of moms who had to send the dads for drop off because they couldn’t bear to peel their child’s hands off the car door handle. Their kids were in 6th, 7th, 12th grade now and had never looked back after those tearful days. But in the back of my mind my doubt grew. Not only did I know that she would cry until she most likely made herself sick, I knew I couldn’t leave her there to do it. I didn’t have it in me to pull her off my legs or unstick her from the minivan floor. Would it really be that bad if I followed her instinct and mine and kept her home until she was ready to separate?

Our first day of preschool never really came– well, it sort of did. I got her dressed along and took her to school with her brother and asked her if she wanted to stay. She ignored my question as well as the encouraging teachers and headed for the door, panicked and shaky at the thought of me leaving her there. I held her hand, thanked the teachers for giving it a try and loaded my girl right back into the car. Day after day as her brother went to school I asked her if she wanted to go yet and she continued to pretend their was no such option for her. We gradually fell into our own sort of preschool rhythm at home.

She’s in fifth grade now and has never been in a formal classroom. Her brother went through kindergarten before we decided to homeschool him as well. Her little brother spent one year in preschool before we added him to our homeschooling crew and we haven’t looked back since.

I’m sure there are parents who think I’m crazy, who think I should have let my girl cry it out and sent all my children to school like most of  society. But looking back I’m sort of proud of that younger me. My gut told me what was right for my daughter and I followed my instinct, not letting others opinions sway what I knew my daughter needed. She has no problem separating from me now but that came in her own time, several years after preschool.

I’ve never regretted my decision to follow my daughter’s lead and my mama instincts. Except for maybe when I’m wishing for two quiet seconds in the middle of our homeschool day. There’s definitely been a time or two in those noisy hours when I’d give anything for a teacher to meet me at the door and talk me into leaving all my children with her for the day– or even just for an hour, so I can grocery shop alone or hear myself think.

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