HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on August 15, 2013.
I am a chronic worrier, a bit of a pessimist, an over-preparer, and prone to occasional panic attacks. And since becoming a mother a few years ago, all of these tendencies are now focused on my son and his soon-to-be baby brother.
Growing up, I heard so many times, in so many ways, how unsafe the world was.
As an adult, reflection has made me realize how the “safe” isolated homeschooling world my parents confined me in was actually incredibly damaging to me and many of my peers, while my adult experiences in the “dangerous” outside world have been very positive and affirming. I have been able to overcome my deeply ingrained childhood perceptions for myself, and feel like a functioning and happy member of the big outside world.
However, I am unexpectedly having to go through the same process again, now that I am in the role of a mother.
All the progress I made for myself, I am having to do again, this time for my son.
Hours, days, weeks, and months of continuously caring for his little infant needs really affected me. I had never felt so needed and so intensely protective before–my entire life was about him, his happiness, his well-being, and I couldn’t spare any attention for myself or my marriage. After all, no one could take care of my little baby boy as well as my husband me–we knew him better than anyone and loved him more than anyone!
It didn’t help that I had a huge falling-out with my mom and my mother-in-law at around the same time that my son was born. And it also didn’t help that we were living in a relatively new area with no long-term friends around. No local family, no close established local friendships, plus drama with both of my son’s grandmas–that situation made it easy for me to continue for a long time in my hangup without ever acknowledging to myself that I was deathly afraid to leave my baby with another person besides my husband.
As my son got older, I saw other parents that I respected leave their babies with babysitters, or in daycare, or with family and friends, and I thought nothing of it. It seemed like the right choice for them, and once they got through the initial adjustment, it seemed like their choice really benefited the whole family. But when I tried to imagine myself in the same situation, I would be flooded by panic attacks and vivid imaginations of what might go wrong.
My old fears were coming back to haunt me–not for myself but for my son.
With a lot of encouragement from my husband and my friends, and a realization that I was going to either fade from existence or crack under the pressure, I left my son with someone I trust and went out on a quick lunch date with my husband. I sobbed, I thought about my son constantly, and I was in a rush to get back to him. It really wasn’t much of a date, more of a milestone, because for the first time I saw that my son could be fine without my husband and me–he didn’t cry at all when we left or while we were gone!
Since then, I’ve gotten more and more comfortable leaving my son with a small group of people I know and trust. And he has helped a lot by never crying when we leave, not even once! However, I’m now stuck on the next step–finding and using a babysitter. Once my second little one arrives, it will be a far bigger imposition to ask for babysitting favors, and much harder to return the favors as well.
The time has come to find and learn to trust a babysitter.
The thought absolutely terrifies me. But I will eventually push through this fear as well, and enjoy the benefits it will offer to me (sanity!), my marriage (better communication and more affection!), and my kids (more social confidence and self-reliance!).
I want to always be there for my little boy and his soon-to-be baby brother; I don’t think that will never change. But I can balance that desire with my other desire, to see my sons learn to navigate the world when I’m not around and gain confidence in themselves.
And I need to give them space, little by little, for that to happen.
I saw this post a few days ago, and I’ve been chewing on it since. It really hit me. Recently I was driving past a public school near where I grew up, and it made me clam up. Sometimes I wonder if I’d be emotionally able to *not* homeschool my children because of a lot that you describe. I’m scared of institutions, ugh.
Yes, I feel the same way….but we just have to tackle one step at a time, right? Actually, Melissa at Permission to Live wrote a couple really helpful blog posts on the topic last year about how she processed this when her daughter started kindergarten:
Wow, thanks for pointing out those posts. (First one needs to be crossposted here, seriously!) I would have been just as scared as Melissa, I feel certain even though I am not in her shoes. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an elementary school classroom in my life (with the exception of overseas). Part of it may be the fear of the unknown because I don’t know what it’s like. But all I have is messages about how bad school is, and they triumph my ability to think positively about the unknown.
It’s just so weird to think that most people grow up in school and I don’t have a clue what it’s like. It’s so weird.
I was terrified of putting my kids into school. I started out working at a daycare nearby hoping my kids could attend their program. It was a horrid place (although highly accredited – not an auspicious beginning). Through the generosity of the Quaker scholarships I was able to enroll both of them in a small private preschool I had cleaned while a teenager, so I felt some connection to it. It was great, and as our home life deteriorated that made it easier for me to go ahead and enroll them in public school. We are blessed to live in a fantastic school district, my oldest is an academic sponge, and homeschooling under the conditions we lived in was not an option. The preschool director was very supportive, and the teachers had their own kids enrolled in local public schools, so they really encouraged me. So, although necessity forced my hand, I’ve had no occasion to regret the decision yet. And my toddler is now in a good daycare. The only thing I dislike about that is, since I am funded by CCIS, I do not have the option of keeping her home on her scheduled days unless she’s running a fever, otherwise I have to pay out of pocket after a certain point. And I can’t. So there are days when I know she needs to stay home and chill and rest, but I have to take her, and that bugs me. Still, overall her experience seems to be great. And one thing that really helped me was noting how many adults who abuse kids are actually close with the family. I have to accept that I can never guarantee my kids safety 100%, and that they are just as safe with 95% of other caregivers as they are with me. And the other 5%? I just have to keep my antennae up and be ready with a 6-foot-deep hole in the garden if they violate my child’s trust. (Okay, I’ll probably call the police, but I’ll be dreaming about that hole…)
My child is a little under two and I struggle with similar feelings. I was raised in a somewhat fear-based environment where social outings and trips to tournaments were canceled based on “bad feelings” my mom or dad had (or if a murder/kidnapping had occurred within a 60-mile radius of the location within 3 months). I struggle with leaving my child alone because I feel I’m the only one who cares enough about him to make sure he is safe and loved. Part of this is based on my upbringing; another part of it is based on having worked in daycares and public schools prior to being a SAHM. I was an incredibly nurturing, loving daycare teacher; I hugged my four-year-olds before their naps and I wanted to cry when they cried. In fact, it was while teaching at a daycare that I realized I wanted to be a mom. I remember feeding one particularly sweet little boy a bottle of formula. Feeling needed…like I was the most important person in his world as he looked up at me with big, loving eyes. However (and I say this with much sadness), my teaching style was absolutely NOT the norm. I taught at a prestigious daycare with a waiting list, known as one of the more expensive, nicer daycares in my city. Most of the teachers rolled their eyes at the kids or ignored them when they cried and often talked badly of the parents within earshot of these kids (obviously most of them were still too young to understand, but I still felt it was disrespectful). I honestly can’t think of another teacher at that daycare who appeared to even mildly enjoy working there. (And, again, spots at this daycare were highly coveted. When I mentioned working there, people usually said, “Oh, I wanted Suzy to go there, but it was too expensive,” et al.) When I taught public school, the teachers talked about the kids behind their backs, trading stories in the lunch room about problem students (“If you think that’s bad, guess what Johnny did in MY class…”), talking about how much they hated teaching. Again, this was one of the better public schools in my area – a county school (rather than a city school). Most of the city leaders were alumni. The teacher who’d previously held my position looked on her departure with glee, telling me (before my first day) she “couldn’t pretend she was sorry to leave.” Obviously I know there are great teachers and great schools out there (I know this, shockingly, in spite of being homeschooled 😉 ). After teaching in several different schools and daycares in a handful of cities, though, my experience would be that good schools and good teachers are difficult to find. (In all honesty, people who love their jobs and perform them ethically, and with vigor, are hard to find, period.) I think, because I am a former teacher, I’m less inclined to put my child in formal daycare or school settings – and, somehow, that’s also caused a reticence with regard to seeking babysitters. My husband and I have a very healthy relationship – we just have date nights at home after our baby goes to bed. Is it good to get out, just the two of us, sometimes? Absolutely. But if you’re more comfortable with connecting at home than worrying about your child in an expensive restaurant, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s natural, especially as a new mother, to worry about your child – and while, yes, there are absolutely trustworthy caregivers and teachers out there – it’s true that, at the end of the day, no one knows your child better than you (especially when they’re little). I think what I’m most interested in is teaching self-sufficiency and independence over time; leaving a two-year-old with a babysitter isn’t the same thing as teaching self-sufficiency. It would serve, in my opinion, most children’s interests better to teach independent thinking and living than to worry about “getting over” your motherly hunger for their safety and security. That said, it can be a gray area – what is a normal, natural desire to protect your child – and what is helicoptering. It’s something every mom and dad has to figure out through the use of prayer and hopefully a little common sense.