I took her first back-to-school picture and then hugged her goodbye before she left for her first day of kindergarten. I managed to hide the tears as she stood there smiling for the camera, her small body dwarfed by a gigantic backpack.
She never noticed that underneath my smile was the sadness of seeing her leave to forge a new path in a world that I would not be a part of, at least not directly.
When she crawled into my husband's car and waved her final goodbye, the tears I held back began to roll down my face.
If this was a good thing, why did I feel so bad?
The thought of sending my daughter to school, where she would be walking the halls with gigantic eighth graders, scared me. Who would she go to when she was upset? Who would hug her when she cried? Would she sit alone at lunch? Who would protect her?
Most parents worry about these things when they send their first child off to elementary school, and in the end, we find the same thing: our kids are in good hands.
They find comfort in loving teachers, lunch ladies and office staff. They discover friends on the playground and in the library. It turns out, the people in the school are 100% invested in my child’s success.
Even though I worried no one would care when my daughter skinned her knee, teachers were always tending wounds — my child’s and everyone else’s — bandaging them up, offering hugs, wiping tears and being everything to everyone. Teachers and staff did so much more than educate — they acted as surrogate nurses, counselors, parents and mentors.
They are everyday heroes, filling my shoes when I’m not there.
When my daughter’s tooth fell out in the middle of lunch, someone made sure that it didn’t get lost in the lunchtime shuffle. It came home later that day wrapped in a paper towel zipped away in a baggy. It wasn’t the most important thing that happened in school that day, but for my daughter, it was, and someone had not forgotten that.
Here’s the thing we’re not expecting when we send our child off into the unknown: When we let go, we find someone else is there to catch our child’s fall. No matter what school our child attends – public, private, homeschool co-op, online–there is someone invested in my child’s good.
Besides school staff, there are other everyday heroes – coaches, librarians, Sunday school teachers, tutors, principals, counselors and pastors – working hard to see my child succeed, partnering with me in helping her reach her potential, teaching me the most important lesson of al l— that I don’t have to have all the answers when it comes to parenting.
We don’t always see this community of people helping us raise our kids, but they are critical for their success. Research from the Fuller Youth Institute shows that children need the support of 5 other influential adults in their lives other than their parents.
In other words, even though I might be the most important adult in my child’s life, I cannot be the only adult. I cannot do it all. It really does take a community.
Now my daughter is twelve and there’s a different send-off these days. I’m dropping her off at youth group and basketball practice. I’m sending her to conferences and camps, and though I occasionally get a little twinge of sadness at how fast she is growing up, I also know this:
My child is in good hands.
For that, I’m thankful.
A version of this article first appeared on PoetsAndSaints.com