A few months ago, my six-year-old daughter Hayley forgot her afternoon snack. I high tailed home to pick up her granola bar and get it to her school before work. Hayley's school was enrolling new students, so the line to the office was a mile long. I snuck past the office and barged into her kindergarten classroom door holding up her granola bar in a plastic bag with heart stickers on it. "Sweetie, you forgot your snack," I said in an endearing way. Hayley just sat there frozen, looking at me like I had two heads. "Go ahead, Hayley" her teacher said. "Put it in your locker."
I walked with Hayley to her locker and that's when it happened. My little girl who I have been inseparable with since the day she was born put her hand over her face and said, "God Mom, you're really embarrassing me."
I hung my head in shame all the way to work. Didn't I have more time until we went through this phase? As a kid, I remember middle school drop-offs, where I'd literally recline the passenger seat so my friends wouldn't see that I was in the car with my mom. Or, if I was in the grocery store with dad and spotted someone I knew, I’d run into another aisle, or hide behind a produce display. But I was 12-years-old and Hayley is only six. And that was the 90s, where everyone was uncool. But I began to wonder, as a parent, was I actually uncool? I tried to stay up-to-date on the latest school gossip (who is playing with who at recess), the “in” trends (now, flip sequins and unicorn everything) and I can even do a pretty mean dab and floss.
But that incident wasn’t isolated. In fact, it was just the start of Hayley pulling away from me publicly though, ironically, all she wanted to do at home was play together, read together and sleep in my bed.
“When kids start going to school, its age appropriate to explore more independence, which can often feel like a big rejection to parents,” said Veronica Ursetto, LPLC, NCC, CCMHC, a child and adult therapist. “It’s helpful to talk to your kids about becoming independent and also how your relationship is still important.
In talking to parents of Hayley’s friends, it became clear that I wasn’t alone. However, I seemed to be the only parent that really took it to heart.
“This too shall pass,” my own mom told me.
To preserve the relationship with a child who may be feeling embarrassed by their parent, Ursetto recommends setting up a “special time” at home to continue bonding moments with your child. These activities can be based on your existing relationship and may include special reading time or teaching your child a new activity (sewing, sports, etc.) that can guide your relationship to the next level.
Taking her advice, in the last few weeks, I’ve tried to carve out “Hayley and Mommy time,” aside from the time we spend together as a family. We’ve gone on ice cream dates, park play dates, and I even managed to find a way to make grocery shopping a fun activity we could do together.
The funny thing is, during one of our outings, I planned to broach the subject of how I felt when Hayley brushed me off, but it was easy to see that this public behavior had no impact on the strong connection we still—and will always—have. “For parents, it’s okay to be sad, but also understand how beautiful it is to watch your child thriving,” Ursetto says. Now, when the behavior arises, I try to shrug it off, crossing my fingers and toes that she will move on to another phase soon.