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Challenge: Back to School

What I Wish I'd Known on the First Day of School

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I've officially sent my only child off to school for the very first time and wow, did I get schooled! Here's a friendly reminder to all the other stay-at-home moms like myself who might be in need of a good pat on the back right about now! You're doing a great job!

Hey stay at home mom, just as soon as you accept that you're doing it right, you'll drop your child off at his first day of school only to have the teacher want to talk to you about your child. Your carefree, energetic, smart child who didn't learn how to properly sit still in a seat and follow instructions from a stranger at the age of 4 because he was too busy making up stories with his LEGO trucks on your living room rug or chatting your ear off about dinosaurs and their eating habits while simultaneously building "constructions" and explaining what trajectory means. This teacher has not yet seen that side of your child. Right now, she only sees a disruption and bad influence on the rest of her young class she's trying to keep in order.

Hold your head high, mama. Don't doubt another decision you've made. Don't let those potential "what ifs" further defeat you. Choose to believe in the process, drawing strength from the truth that the tenacity and energy and creativity your child holds now will stick with him into adulthood. You must choose to see these as future assets rather than temporary setbacks.

Ignore the new chant of, "I don't like school," that will appear by day 3 as you must now physically remove your small child from your body to say goodbye when only a day ago he left happily, with an excited smile on his face. Trust the process. Trust yourself. Don't let those little voices in your head tell you that you've done something wrong when what you chose to do was keep that little guy as close as possible until this day came. You did all the right things! You played with him. You cooked for him. You involved him in activities of your own outside the home. You taught him that his mom is strong. You exposed him to countless other children and playgroups who became lifelong friends for both of you.

Those friends know how intelligent your child is and compliment you endlessly on what a great mother you are. You have found your village. Remember that when you speak with your child's teacher because she doesn't know him yet. She hasn't had a conversation with him. From the teacher's limited perspective, your child is behind. He has a lot of catching up to do on the learning curve. He didn't want to draw pictures or use scissors. He doesn't understand why he can't play with the blocks or climb on the playground equipment. He may struggle to maintain focus even during mealtime, needing reminders or motivators to keep him going since he's used to grazing all day from his own kitchen table. Who knew that was the equivalent of child neglect? It may feel that way when his teacher reminds you, his mom of almost 5 years, that he might need his belly filled a little more before school because he complained of being hungry, even though you fed him breakfast and packed him a lunch.

What you didn't do was neglect him. You didn't ignore his requests. You didn't make him someone else's responsibility. Your job is thankless and just when you have realized that the full-time unpaid gig has now become a part-time unpaid gig, things get even harder. "How is that possible?" you might be thinking. You see, mama, you raised a fiercely independent child with strong opinions. You set a goal and you attained it. You took parenting very seriously, knowing all along that the end result is to create a successful adult, not simply to meet the most basic needs of human growth and development. As a result, times will get tough. Conversations will have to happen - with your child and with his teachers. You are your child's best advocate when he can't speak for himself. You know what's best. You always have. It feels impossible to continue on right now, knowing just how much your child might be struggling, but trust in the process, give it another few days, weeks, months. This is a brand new experience for both of you and like any new skill in life, it will take time. Grant yourself that time. Don't be too hard on yourself and by all means, please be gentle on your little one. They won't be little forever.

Mama, you may not look back on these first few days of school that are supposed to be so super special for both of you with fond memories. And that's ok. The day will come when you can look back and see how far your child has come, how much they have grown and learned to adapt in their new environment and coexist among classmates who may not be as independent as himself. He will find his way. You have brought him down the path that was meant for him.

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