Parenting is a funny thing. You don’t realize how unprepared you are for it until you’re in the thick of it. Of course you feel unprepared when you bring that tiny newborn bundle home from the hospital, still reeling from the shock that someone thinks you’re qualified enough to take care of an entire life. But the real lack of preparation shows up later, when you have to start dealing with situations like kids fighting on the playground, rudeness, biting, and not sharing. I’m only just now getting into the minor stuff. The harder stuff is yet to come as my son gets older: being left out by friends, not making a sports team, or having trouble with girls. It’s not the kind of stuff they teach in a simple handbook. It’s stuff you have to learn from experience or by observing someone else going through it as well.
Working at home and being home with my son means I have the potential to not be exposed to any important parenting role models. It means I could be stumbling through every obstacle on my own, franticly searching the Internet for an answer or checking out all the books at the library. But those things aren’t going to teach me about my kid. They may help a little, but real life is where the true answers lie.
My friends have been helpful — priceless, really — as I stumble through this parenting thing for the first time, but they’re just getting started too. They haven’t experienced everything yet, and what they have dealt with has only been isolated to brief encounters. The true lessons I’ve learned about parenting have come from what shouldn’t be such a surprising place, but it was to me: preschool.
I started my son in “school” when he was eight months old because I couldn’t handle being home with him all the time. There’s obvious guilt that goes along with that, but it was the right thing to do for our family. Plenty of families have been through the same exact thing. Lots of moms feel bad about letting someone else watch their child when they could be doing it, but they know the importance of sending their kids to school so they can learn, whether it be shapes and colors or manners and social skills. Most moms even know that giving themselves a little bit of time can improve their ability to be a good mom the rest of the time. I knew these things, too. What I didn’t know was how much sending my son to preschool was going to teach me.
Here are six things I’ve learned from sending my son to preschool:
1. How to let go of control
This is going to be a shocker, I know, but guess what: my son is totally fine if he does things a different way than I would have him do it. He’s going to be okay if he doesn’t eat a snack at exactly 10:30am or take a nap precisely at 2pm. The world isn’t going to end if he eats a piece of candy or doesn’t want to wear matching clothes to school. He’s going to be okay if he runs 50 feet away from me on an enclosed playground, and he doesn’t need to hold my hand once we’re out of the parking lot. He doesn’t need me to tell him what to do every day; even at the age of 2, he knows what’s expected of him and it’s up to me to trust him to do it.
2. It’s okay to let kids fail
Teachers don’t expect kids to get things right. They guide them and lead them, but they don’t expect perfection. In fact, they expect mistakes. They tell kids the intended outcome and are just as pleased if they do it entirely wrong as they are if they do it right. It’s evidenced in the “art” that comes home daily: the cat that has six eyes and no whiskers or the snowman that has carrots for arms and buttons for ears. It’s about the process, not the outcome. It’s evidenced in the intangible, too; my son no longer looks over his shoulder for me as he climbs the stairs to the slide. He knows he can try and if he makes it up — that’s great, and if not — that’s okay, too.
3. You can trust your kid to do more
It may be hard to let go of the idea that he’s your little baby, but he’s probably capable of more than you think. At school he can take off his own coat and hang it up. He can pull up his own shirtsleeves and wash his hands. He can throw his own lunch away and introduce himself to his classmates. He doesn’t need me to do those things, and honestly, it’s better that he learns that he can and should do these things himself. It teaches him that he can be responsible for things, and it teaches both of us that he doesn’t need me for every little thing anymore. I didn’t realize he could get himself a cup of water or put his dishes in the sink until I gave him the space and the opportunity to do so.
4. Kids are going to like what they’re going to like
I may want my son to like hippos, but he may like dinosaurs instead. I may want him to like the color red, but he may pick blue. I may want him to play with Billy, but he may want to play with Joe. It may be important things and it may be trivial, but even at such an early age, kids are naturally drawn toward certain things. It’s my job to encourage him to keep making his own choices and not just push my likes onto him. School is the perfect opportunity for me to learn about things he likes that I never would have thought of exposing him to.
5. Sometimes kids will learn more from their peers than from their parents
I knew it’d happen during the teen years, but peers are already a huge influence on my son’s choices and behaviors. Right now it’s little things like saying “that’s dumb” or “you’re a poopyhead” or hitting or pushing, but later it will be other things. Bigger things. It’s up to me to learn how to deal with this and to know when to step in and when to let it go. His exposure to other kids his age when I’m not around is giving me a head start on putting this one into practice.
6. I’m a person, not just a mom, but I like being mom
The most pronounced lesson I’ve learned of all this is that even though I’m a mom now, I’m still my own person with my own identity. I have a life outside of wrangling a toddler and cleaning up sticky fingers. But truly the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I like my identity and life as a mom. It reminds me that it’s a choice and one I’m grateful for.More On