I’ve written a few blogs on this subject, but am experiencing it anew as my daughter grows up and away. Or maybe she is all grown up. It is hard to break the habit of thinking of our children as children, even in the face of ever-mounting evidence to the contrary.
She now lives in another state with the love of her life. He is wonderful. She is wonderful. They are wonderful together. It feels good in a few ways:
One, that I did a good job raising her. (I know, a little self-eggrandizing perhaps. We have to take some credit, no?) Two, that she has overcome some real obstacles as she grew up. And three, that she is doing exactly what I’ve always hoped and worked hard at raising her for: she’s independent, makes good, thoughtful decisions (big and small) and has found someone to share her life with. She is also an expert at building a community around her that is supportive and that she supports in turn. As I write, I hope she isn’t embarrassed by this, and also, that life is a work in progress for all of us.
The other part of this is that I sometimes feel sad too. As much as I revel in this new phase of her (and my) life, separation is painful. In a real way, getting older and seeing your children grown and having a complex life feels at moments like you’re fading. I know that might seem a little dark to some people, but it is the ebb and flow of life. After having just visited her for five days, I was ready to come home at the end of the stay, yet at the same time miss her, her new love, and her rich life there and wish she wasn’t so far away. It is so vitally important to have other focuses in your own life as a separate person. I am ever grateful to be a teacher, an artist and for this new expression as a blogger (isn’t there a better word for this?).
What a huge topic! I remember reading, when my daughter Sara was a baby in the early 1980’s, that a child’s first act of separation was when they lean away from you while you’re holding them. There are probably even earlier acts, but this really stuck in my mind. What an idea! My early instincts as a parent told me this was what was supposed to happen. I still believe that. It comes with a little heart break each time, but it should also be noticed and celebrated.
When the playgroup begins in September of every year, I very much sympathize with parents, and caregivers, who have a hard time leaving their young child in a new situation. Letting go is a big deal. Perhaps less so if this is their second or third child (in some cases it’s even harder), but, nonetheless it is a process. But I believe it is a really good step for children, and I try to make the transition as smooth as possible. There are times in the beginning that I let parents stay – sometimes longer than I would recommend. Who am I to say what is best for that particular child? We are, in most cases, just getting to know each other. All I have to go by is my 26 years of running playgroups, knowing that it works out, and is a wonderful experience for the whole family.
The playgroup year begins next week. Most of the kids have never been part of a group consisting of their peers. And most have not been without a parent, nanny or babysitter for hours at a time, on an ongoing basis. It is impossible to know before the group begins how any one of the children will react to this new situation. Therefore, I don’t have a formula. This may be disappointing to some parents.
When the group begins to meet, I recommend that most parents stay for about a half hour, or until all the children have arrived. Then leave (not all at once!) and assume that all will be well. I ask that one person in the family be available to pick their child up early if they are having a hard time. It’s a little difficult to describe what a “hard time” is. Well, of course, inconsolable crying is one, but if I know that a particular child has rarely been left with anyone other than the parents or caregiver, I might ask that their child be picked up a bit earlier for a few weeks.
Separation from your child can be painful at first. And I mean painful for the child as well as the adults in their lives. I truly believe this (or another) group experience, with warm and knowledgeable teachers, is a real gift to very young children. A gentle step away from the family for short periods of time, meeting over a period of months, is very empowering.
Separation is loaded for all of us. For some of us there is guilt. Am I hurting my child by spending time away from him or her? Will they feel abandoned? Being aware of the thoughts and feelings you are having as parents becomes a powerful tool. Just noticing what you’re feeling as you drop your child off at a playgroup, or leave your child with her or his nanny or babysitter will give you clues. Do you have a look of worry or sadness when you say goodbye? I’ve suggested at times that if your child is very anxious when you leave, try changing your expression – even if you’re not feeling it – to a look of confidence. You can assure them that you are happy that they are staying with people who really like them, that they’ll have fun, and that you will see them later. Try to leave at that point. It often makes children more and more anxious if you don’t leave when you said you would. It is very empowering for your child to feel safe and have fun with people outside of the family.