Every mothering bone in my body (and that’s all of them including the 26 bones in each foot that get abused by jettisoned Lego/Duplo pieces) drive me to prevent my children from feeling any form of pain – be that physical or emotional. I believe that the expression “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is incorrect. Hell hath no fury like a mother protecting her child. Maybe the fury is different. In the first instance it is possibly cold and calculating. In the second instance it is raw and primal. That instinct to prevent a child from getting hurt is just so darn inbuilt and strong in mothers.
And then it comes time to send your child to school.
This is the most excruciating experience for me. It is like leaving my heart at school when I walk out leaving behind an hysterical child who wants only one thing…. his mother. In this case I am talking about my son but I have been through this before with my daughter and it is even more difficult this time around.
I spend every mothering moment trying to protect my children from being hurt. I get mad when I hear that my daughter’s little friends have said something to upset her, I cuddle and hold them when they fall and scrape and bruise, and God Forbid another adult had to hurt my children (in some instances this includes my husband and he has to gently remind Hell Fury Mother that he is also a parent and has rights to upset my, I mean our, children!). Yet, I take my child to a place filled with strangers, where he does not want to be and leave him there for a couple of hours when I do not really want to… when all I want to do is cuddle him and make it all go away and tell him he is safe and it is over (and where I gladly run to ‘rescue’ him when I get a call to say he is not coping and can I fetch him early!). Hence why the whole starting school thing is so excruciating in the beginning.
When I leave the school in the morning with a lump in my throat and knots in my stomach I have to remind myself that he is with people who are caring for him, people who know how to manage his emotions and in a place where he can learn to have a lot of fun and be greatly stimulated. At home, he has emptied every rubbish bin a thousand times, unrolled 80 plus rolls of toilet paper, drawn on countless surfaces, ridden the dogs into the ground and driven our endlessly patient char/childminder a little crazy as she tries to get the housework done while doing damage control. School is a good thing for the little tyrant. The crazy thing is each morning he grabs his school bag and runs to the car. But when I leave the school he falls apart. Then I feel like I am falling apart too.
This is probably the greatest battle of motherhood (besides having to balance their needs and your own needs so that they are healthy and well-rounded and you remain sane!). They start off as part of us, literally; they then remain firmly attached to us and reliant on us for survival; and then they start to take a few steps, sometimes away from us but mostly around and back to us; and, finally, the apron strings get stretched a bit further and a bit further and it’s time to let them go one little step at a time. Our whole mothering journey is ultimately about letting them go. Isn’t that crazy?!
As a psychologist I know that this is a very important process in determining what kind of adults they will be. I also know that a healthy attachment allows for healthy independence. I believe my children and I have a largely healthy attachment (I don’t think I could have been any better even though I was nowhere near the perfect mom I aimed to be!) I know that this separation process is inevitable. Then I question myself. Maybe I am forcing indepedence on my son when he is too young (he is after all only 1 year 8 months and school is not entirely necessary – I just thought maybe he would enjoy it (and our house would finally be cleaned and our clothes ironed!)? Maybe this is more about my needs then his needs? Who the hell knows really.
So instead, one week in, I continue to leave school in the morning with a lump in my throat and knots in my stomach leaving my heart behind in that little class room with him and I just hope that in a few more days he might just enjoy it and the floods of tears will trickle to a few drops to nothing at all. I do believe he knows that he is loved. He comes back to a secure home and routine that helps him feel safe and held and he still plays and laughs and dances. So no matter how difficult it is initially when he gets to school he knows he is not alone and has been taught to trust that the world (generally) is a safe place that will hold him.
Because one day my children are going to completely sever those apron strings. They are going to keep lots of secrets, have dreams and desires that I am not privy to, want to go to places with their friends that are as far from me as possible, go to university, have their own children. And that is how it should be. They are also going to get hurt – not just once, but many times – emotionally and physically. And that too is a necessary part of their journeys. However, I am sure that then, like now, my heart will still be with them and they will continue to know that that they are loved and they can always come “home” if they need to. But ultimately it will be them versus the world. Yikes!
For now, I am just going to focus on the first big step – another day of school separation and another step that stretches those apron strings.