Monday, November 30, 2009

Separation Anxiety (Or: Yet Another Reason for Mama to Feel Guilty)

September, preschool orientation

Genevieve is going through some major separation anxiety. Last night she begged me not to go running while Daddy put her to bed. The other weekend Christopher had to stay with her at a close friend's birthday party (I was doing the Thanksgiving grocery shopping), even though it was a drop-off party and Julia was there too and she's known this family her whole life and sees them multiple times per week. But mostly, Genevieve cries about going to preschool.

Yes, even though for the entire months of September and October--to my great joy and relief--Genevieve ran happily into her nursery school classroom with a grin and a backward wave, now for some mysterious reason she has decided she does not like being there. Or, rather, about four weeks ago she decided this, and she has been crying about it ever since. There is no discernible explanation. No one is being mean to her. Her teachers are skilled and sweet. She has good buddies in her class. Nothing has changed at home or in her routine. When asked--prompted, probed, begged for a reason--she says things like, "I miss you, Mama," or "It's too long," or "I just want to be with you." I have talked with her teacher, at parent-teacher conferences earlier this fall, and we have yet to figure it out or solve it.

You have no idea how awful this feels. Or maybe you do, if you're a mom who's gone through it. I know Genevieve stops crying once I leave (the teachers tell me), but I think she's probably pretty sad most of the time she's there, even if the tears abate. I feel heartless leaving her at school when each morning she says, "I don't want to go to weschool." It's horrifying to hug her goodbye and watch her toddler face crumple--again! Every time! And, worst of all, I wouldn't have had to send her this year at all. She's a super-young three; I debated and debated whether to do nursery school this fall or wait a year. She could have easily spent another year home with me full-time. But part of me also knew how well she knew this school from bringing Julia there the past two years, and how she told me all summer she wanted to go, and how her best friends would be there, and how Genevieve is a really hard child to parent (though her teachers can't believe it, since she's utterly silent and compliant at school) and it would likely be good for my sanity to get a short break from her each week given the fact that I don't have any alternative resources for getting a break from her the other 163 hours of the week. I was THRILLED when the first two months of school went so great. It was unbelievable! There wasn't even a second of hesitation on her part, not a moment of fear or sadness from day one. She was ready and happy to go. Until about a month ago.

And here's the thing: there's nothing I can do to change things. I can't withdraw her; I am contractually obligated to pay tuition through the year, because my tuition pays the teachers' salaries. We are committed through May. I don't have the option of taking her out. Also, I have a really hard time believing that a few hours a week of away-from-Mama socialization and care isn't a good thing for a baby who's never been left anywhere. I mean, she's with me the other trillion hours out of the week; it's only five hours she's at this small, play-based nursery school. Think of all the children who are in daycare eight or nine hours per day from infancy on, or even how many children have babysitters at their homes for a few hours per week so Mom and Dad can have date night or Mom can run errands or do some part-time work. Three years old doesn't seem all that unreasonable an age to spend a few hours a week away from a parent.

Last night I had a terrible nightmare about Genevieve. She was kidnapped, and terrible things happened to her before she was returned to us. It was definitely the worst dream I have ever had in my life; far worse than anything I might have dreamed about my own safety before I became a mom. I know it's because my brain is preoccupied with concerns about her well-being, her fear of being apart from me even for a short time--even for a 40-minute run!

But the year has to go on; even if she cries every single day and it never stops, preschool continues, the rest of this year and then next year when she's four. I could take her out of preschool this year, but I'd owe $100 a month until May, for care she would no longer be getting. Who can afford that?

I made the decision to send her to school with the best information and knowledge I had at the time, and it was good information in the beginning. I had no way to know that by November Genevieve would be in tears about school; you should have seen her pride and excitement every day back then, when she'd bound into school! You would never have guessed she'd start to cry about it later.

As if I need anything more keeping me awake at night.


Mnmom said...

I totally understand you - Lina went through the same thing. I blamed it on my cancer but it might have shown up on it's own anyway.

She WILL grow out of it. And like you said, it's only a few hours each week in a truly wonderful and happy place. She'll be fine. Then she'll be into her next challenging phase.

Those nightmares are part of being a parent, and they are horrible.

Mitch said...

My son and I went through the same experience. It was really hard at first. Now, after just a couple of months since his first day in school, he wouldn't want me to stay too long in school to watch him over. Well, I guess that's how life is. Anyways, my son and daughter are my greatest motivation to be a good person that I could be everyday. Thanks and good luck to you and your cute daughter.

Tiffany said...

Does the school have a waiting list? Maybe someone else would like her spot and you'd be off the hook.

Anonymous said...

We are just getting over this. It was a complete surprise for us when our son started to say he didn't want to go to preschool this summer. Shortly before the year began, he finally came around and told me it was because he wanted to be with me. It was also a surprise because this would be his second year with the same teacher and she's awesome!

After a few weeks of being in the classroom or in the car waiting, there was still a lot of "I don't like preschool/don't like the kids" etc. So not true and really, his teacher tells me the same. He is absolutely fine when I'm gone, happy and playing with his friends.

What worked for us is that I tell him I'll be the first parent back. I haven't always been the first parent for pick up, but he doesn't seem to care. He especially liked it when I asked if I should be the last parent or the first parent there.

Good luck. It will get better.

Donna said...

I'm so sorry she's going through this! Yes, I totally know how awful this feels and how hard it is to 'ride it out' and hope it will turn soon.

Does the teacher/director have any suggestions for you? Would sending her once a week be an option? (You'd still be paying for the day she doesn't go, but the idea would be that when she gets over this hump, the spot will still be waiting for her.) Or do you think that would make her more anxious to go even less?

But, one thing I think is that this anxiety is not just about school - it's about separating from you. (Not to make you feel more guilty!) And *you* know that this bonding period is important for her in order for her to progress to the next developmental stage of being independent and self-identity. That being said, what you're going through is hard.

Hang in there.