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I Blamed Myself for My Daughter’s Preschool Separation Anxiety

preschool separation anxiety
Image source: Jenny Halteman

Being a work-at-home mom has its perks. I get to cuddle in bed with a hot cup of coffee while I write, wear my pajamas all day if I want to, and I don’t have to hire a babysitter to watch my kids.

But therein lies the problem: I’ve never hired a babysitter to watch my kids. Now, my 4-year-old daughter refuses to be away from me. I started working out of the house one day a week when my husband was able to watch her, but I felt that if we didn’t make some serious changes, this problem would soon become more difficult to handle.

Enter preschool.

We signed her up and started talking to her about going to school all the time. She started warming up to the idea with one caveat … that I come, too.

Uh oh.

A few weeks before school started, my daughter’s teacher called me up:

“I’d like to schedule a home visit with you. It really helps the preschoolers get to know me and helps make the transition easier,” her teacher said.

“Honestly, I don’t think my daughter is going to be attending school this year. She’s just not ready for me to leave her in the classroom,” I stuttered.

“Then come! She’ll let you know when she’s ready for you to leave,” she insisted without hesitation.

I explained to her that in my humble opinion, she wouldn’t want me to leave all year … and I couldn’t commit to becoming a preschooler myself. But, I decided she was right. We’d give it a try and see how things panned out.

While I was skeptical, on the first day of preschool, my little girl was at my bed bright and early. “Mom! Mom!” she said, “Preschool starts today! Get up! Let’s go!”

And off we went. She held my hand as we walked down the long hallway, with her large backpack making her look so small and her new light up shoes leading the way. I’m not sure who was more terrified — her or me.

When we arrived at her classroom, her teacher told me that I had nothing to worry about; I wasn’t the first parent to stay all day in the classroom.

There was no way my daughter would be ready to leave me, and I knew it was my fault.
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I watched as the other parents hugged their children and left the room. That’ll never be me, I thought. I honestly believed that this trial run would result in failure. There was no way my daughter would be ready to leave me, and I knew that it was my fault. I never pushed it when she was younger. I knew I should have tried harder to find the kids a babysitter. I knew I should have dropped them off at their friend’s houses for a few hours just to see how it went. I felt like I had done everything wrong, and the reason preschool was going to fail my daughter was all on me.

And yet, the first day of school went surprisingly well. My daughter absolutely loved everything that preschool had to offer: puzzles, toys, a sand table, and of course, recess. Still, I stayed all week long with her, as recommended by her teacher.

Week two was a whole other matter. My daughter decided that she didn’t want me playing with the other kids. She was more adamant about wanting me to pick her up. She wanted me to sit with her, read to her, and play with her. I expected this to happen and assumed her time in preschool was nearing an end. That said, I refused to give up that easily.

On Tuesday, I set out to run an errand in the building for the teacher and told my daughter where I was going, when I’d be back, and how long I’d be gone. Except things didn’t turn out that way, because the teacher quietly said to me, “Just go home. She’ll be fine, but I can tell that she needs you to be gone.”

I quickly weighed my options. Do I just leave without telling my daughter? Do I not? I chose the former. I choked back my tears all the way to the car and then lost it. Not only had I just left my daughter for the first time, but I left her by telling her a lie. I was devastated.

I sat in my car waiting for a phone call or text telling me to return. After about 20 minutes, I drove to the nearest coffee shop and ordered a coffee. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no way she was going to make it through the day.

But she did. Her teacher sent messages telling me when she stopped crying, when she took a nap, and that she was OK. When I came to pick her up at the end of the school day, she saw me and started screaming and crying, “You left me! You said you were going to come back and you didn’t! You left me!”

Now, she walks into her class and gives me a hug at the door, “Goodbye Mom. You can go.” And I do.
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When we got home, I cried and cried. Now that I had left once, I couldn’t go back to staying in her class and reverse the “progress” of the day (even though it surely didn’t feel like progress). My husband and I talked to our daughter a lot that day, explaining that I would not be staying the next day.

The next morning, she refused to eat breakfast. She kicked her shoes off half a dozen times while I kept telling her it was OK, that I loved her, and that I’d always come back for her after school. She begged me, “Please just stay until after our song,” and so I did. I gave her a hug and told her to have a good day. She started wailing, and the teacher had to barricade the door so she wouldn’t run after me. It felt so awful, but I couldn’t give up now.

At the end of the day, my daughter saw me and greeted me with a hug and a smile. Her teacher told me that she had a great day and I was in shock. That was the last day she cried.

Now, she walks into her class and gives me a hug at the door, “Goodbye Mom. You can go.” And I do.

Her transition into preschool was much simpler than I ever thought it could be. At the time, I was embarrassed to be the only parent staying all day in the classroom. I felt very alone in my quest as I watched other moms and dads quickly leave to get on with their lives. Worst of all, I didn’t know how long this transition would take. Would I have to put my life on pause for a month or more to make this work for my daughter? Did I fail my daughter? All those questions made me stressed, and made it a very long week.

I realize now that I did not fail her. Yes, a babysitter or daycare might have been an easier transition for her, but I don’t regret keeping her home with me all four years. I am proud of her for going to preschool, but I am also proud of myself for pushing her beyond what either of us thought she’d be able to do — and that was a huge accomplishment.

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Article Posted 2 years Ago

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