I dreaded my son’s first day of kindergarten.
It was like this one day marked the end of an era – the passage from early childhood to the oh-so-scary “school age.” There was no way that he was old enough to go to kindergarten, and I was definitely not old enough to have a kindergartener!
When the day finally arrived I made sure to document every moment as if somehow that would preserve him in time. I sent him off to school with a special fuzzy in his pocket and kept one in mine as well, sure that this small act would connect us during his first full day away from home. I managed to keep myself together as I settled him in his classroom and gave him one last hug goodbye. But as soon as I was safely in my car, I lost it. Tears streamed down my face and I spent the day counting the minutes until I could pick him up and hold him in my arms.
I have now sent three kids off to kindergarten, and this year I will be sending off my fourth and final baby. Each experience, just like each kid, was different, but there are a few things that have held true with all of them.
So for you moms sending a baby off to kindergarten this year, here is what I have learned.
The first month will be terrible.
Ok, let’s just get the bad news out of the way first. For about the first month of school you will be convinced that your sweet and loving child has been hijacked by a monster. They will be grumpy, they will cry for no reason, they will say mean and angry words, and they will lose all ability to cope with even the smallest things. But don’t worry, this is normal and temporary!
Your little one has just spent an entire day using all their energy to listen, follow directions, and learn new routines. They are exhausted and no longer able to function well. I found that an earlier than normal bedtime for the first several weeks of school helps, and eventually their minds and bodies adjust and they are back to their sweet and loving selves.
You will miss them like crazy, and they probably won’t miss you nearly as much.
I probably thought about my son 100 times on his first day of kindergarten. I wondered if he was nervous, if he would remember what to do when he had to go to the bathroom, if he had someone to play with at recess, if he was tired, what he was doing and thinking at each hour. I think he thought about me twice. When I dropped him off, and again when he saw me at pickup.
There will be good days and bad days.
There will probably come a time when your child’s teacher has to tell you something unpleasant. The day my son’s teacher called me because he refused to listen to her, and then refused to come to the phone to even talk to me, was not one of my favorite parenting moments. I fluctuated between wanting to climb through the phone and shake some sense into my son and wanting to crawl under a rock out of embarrassment.
It took some encouraging words to remind me that everyone makes mistakes, and my worth as a parent is not defined by my child’s bad choices. And of course, there have been plenty of good days to balance out those that were less than stellar.
You will have to work harder to protect family time.
With school comes a stricter schedule. You won’t be able to pick up and go out of town on a whim, or sleep in and have a lazy morning when you feel like it. And as soon as your child starts participating in extra curricular activities, your evening time gets crunched too.
As our family has grown and we have gotten busier, we have worked to make family time a priority. We found that while we can usually have dinner together at least 4 nights a week, we can definitely have breakfast together every day. And since I am not with my kids during the day, I work hard to make sure that the time we are together is quality time. A little bit of face-to-face, no electronics, quality time every day really goes a long way to deepen and maintain our relationships.
You will still be the biggest influence in their lives.
One of my biggest fears about my kids starting kindergarten was that I would no longer be the primary influence in their lives. Like most fears, this was completely unfounded. Yes, my kids will begin to be influenced by other adults and by their peers. But my husband and I are still the ones they look to for help, advice, encouragement, love, approval, bandaids, and hugs. And now they have additional positive role models in their lives that can also remind them to be kind, do their homework, and follow directions. Score!
They are ready. Really.
When you look at your child you probably still see the sweet baby your rocked in your arms, or the mischievous toddler covered in spaghetti, and you think “There is no way they are ready for kindergarten!” I promise you, they are. (Now whether or not we as moms are ready is an entirely different topic!)
You have spent the past five years pouring yourself into your child. You have taught her how to use her words instead of her hands. You have shown him the correct way to use the bathroom (which we can all only hope he remembers). You have taught her numbers, letters, shapes, colors, and animal sounds. You have encouraged him, disciplined him, and loved him until it hurt. You have prepared your baby for this day.
So when the first day of school rolls around, get out your cute “1st day of Kindergarten” sign and document every moment. Then when you sit in your car after drop off with tears streaming down your face, take a minute to pat yourself on the back too. You have done a lot of work to get your baby here.