First Day of Preschool: Smiles and Tears

Close-up of chalk house and highlighters on blackboard

This is a follow up to my post When Preschool Happens.

The first day of preschool happened. There were smiles and tears, I’ll give you two guesses as to who shed the tears.

It turns out that we’ve had a pretty eventful first month of school. Let me take you back to the very first day.

September 9th

My daughter was beyond thrilled to get up and go to school. She babbled endlessly about meeting new friends and being good for the teacher. There was no mention of being sad when mommy and daddy left. We took many photos, toured her classroom, gave a big kiss and she happily ran to play with friends when it was time for us to leave.

Everything was fine until I got into the car and spontaneously burst into tears because my baby was already old enough to go to school. I think the real issue is it hit me that my time is running out to be at home with her. When she was born it seemed so far away and I always thought there could be a chance I’d stay home, if I wanted to. It felt like a small shred of hope I had held on to disappeared. It is complicated to explain but I have to assume many working moms who have done this before me understand.

Daddy and me first day

Fast forward a week

My husband went out of town on a business trip and she developed her first cold. The coughing at night got so bad that she choked and had some unpleasant side effects (you know the projectile kind) which kept us both up all night. I was on a project deadline at work so I had to log in the next day. After missing 2 days of school, one sleep deprived toddler and a very stressed out mom, we made our way back to class.

Horrific guilt

Her first day back to school was quite possibly my worst day as a working mom. Since my husband was out of town during this time, my daughter became increasingly clingy with me. She begged me in the morning not to make her go to school and allow her stay home with mommy.

Once we arrived at school, it became clear to me she was not going to go into her classroom willingly. She clung to me and sobbed for at least 10 minutes. At one point I had another little boy come up to me and begin crying that he wanted his mommy and she was gripping me like a monkey. I was looking to the teachers to help me out, practically pleading with my eyes. I felt bad because I knew that her meltdown was causing other kids to meltdown too.

Finally the teacher’s aide was able to get her to sit down in a chair but when she realized I was leaving she starting yelling, kicking and screaming. The teacher’s aide was restraining her, her face was bright red and I walked out of the room. I stepped out in the hallway looking around, desperate for someone to tell me what to do. I felt lost. I felt like I had to go back in. I’ve never seen her face like that before. I have a video in my head still playing when I looked back at her and she was looking at me with desperation in her eyes.

Her teacher came into the hallway and saw me break down. I was sobbing. She promised me it would be okay and encouraged me to leave. I made my way to car and immediately called my mom (since it was 5am for my husband) and completely lost it. I was hyperventilating and felt like the worst mother on the planet. It was by the far the most horrific mom guilt I have felt to date.

The light

15 minutes into my drive to work the school called. I thought for sure they were calling me back to get her. Instead it was one of the teacher’s aides calling to let me know she had settled down and was reading a book. It was so kind of them to go out of their way to call me and let me know that.

In the afternoon, I’ve never seen her so happy to see me! She ran into my arms and asked me if I cried all day at work without her. Now everyday that I pick her up she asks me if I cried at work. I can’t figure out if I cried in front of her and didn’t realize it or if the teacher told her. Either way, it was a day I will never forget.

For the last week or so we’ve been having smooth drop-offs.  For that I am extremely thankful!

Has anyone else experienced this kind of guilt before? Do your children go into preschool without an issue?

The worst mom guilt I have ever felt as a working mom was dropping my daughter off at preschool

6 thoughts on “First Day of Preschool: Smiles and Tears

  1. [Wipes tears away from my eyes as I type this in Starbucks]

    Thank you for sharing this story. My son (7) was one of those kids that was like, “you’re leaving now, right mom?” No tears from him…ever.

    My daughter (now 4) was totally opposite. We had about a month of her clinging to me, her body like a vise grip on mine. It really makes you feel like crap. It helped that the teachers let me know she was fine shortly after I left…then I’d find out she’d randomly start crying again for me in the middle of the day. UGH.

    It’s SO nice the school called you after, what a big big relief! For us, it’s mostly gotten easier, then occasionally when I think we’re cool it gets hard again. She’s been in preschool for over a year now and this morning was the FIRST time I dropped her off at the door and didn’t need to come in and get her settled. Good luck mama, you’re doing great!

  2. I can absolutely relate to all of those feelings. I especially remember how I held on to the thought that maybe someday I’d figure out how to work less and be home with my kids more, and then that option (which in reality wasn’t ever really there) disappeared once they both started school. My oldest started high school this year, and my youngest started middle school, but reading this brought all of those feelings and thoughts rushing back in.

    All I can say is that it does get easier, and that my daughter (the high school freshman) told me that while she did wish I had been home more when she was younger, now she’s proud that I work and contribute to the family.

  3. Monica's Husband says:

    As the other half of this parenting team, I want to comment here on Monica’s strength and personal growth through the past month. If you know anything about Monica she’s typically one of the strongest and boldest people you will ever meet. I’ve had co-workers (we work for the same company) stop me an tell me they don’t know how Monica can stand up for herself in the light of anything. I’ve never seen anything come Monica’s way that she couldn’t conquer.

    This past month watching her wrestle with the agony of pre-school and our little princess has been gut wrenching. Yet, she’s been so strong when needed. Outside of their moment while I was out of town, Monica has maintained a constant positive front for our daughter. She (Monica) is always positive and upbeat encouraging the little miss to enjoy time with her friends and have fun at school. No matter how taxing the workday is, Monica always has time to snuggle our daughter and enjoy every moment with her.

    Keep up the good work Monica. I’m proud of you and I know our daughter knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love her and will always come back for her. Both she and I love you very much. You are doing great.

  4. Hi
    My child is in daycare. He is adopted and He was just over 2 months old when I had to put him in full time daycare. The reasoning behind the short maternity leave was because I had started a new job and to qualify for FMLA I would have had to work there a year and at the time I was not there a year yet. Putting my son in daycare at such a young, vulnerable age was one of the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I was crying so hysterically one of the ladies tried to comfort me telling me he was going to be ok. I cried for several weeks on my way to work. He also got sick A LOT. It didn’t help that he was having some feeding issues and it was January when he started daycare (cold and flu season) and obviously his little immune system was not so strong. But, fast forward to now (he is now a ripe 21 months and will be 2 in October) it’s still hard – but better. One of the struggles I have is that he had loved and enjoyed the infant room but his transition to the toddler room is not great. Or maybe it could just be he’s older – Im not sure. But he does not seem nearly as happy to be dropped off there as he used to. He does cry and will try to cling to me most days but not every day. I have found a transitional item like a stuffed animal helps. I don’t have any friends in my situation as an adoptive parent and also because of my work hours. My husband works a third shift which is also unique from our friends/family situations. So sometimes it can feel isolating and as though others don’t understand. I have a lot of friends who are new moms. One works at home mostly. One is a teacher and has summers with both her husband (who is also a teacher) and mother and mother in law right there to help. Sometimes the guilt can be tremendous. thank you for this blog

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