Please welcome our new staff writer, Michaelyn Hein! Michaelyn lives in New Jersey with her husband of 8 ½ years, and is a stay-at-home mom to their 4 year-old son. After earning a B.A. in English, and M.A.T. in Secondary Education, she taught high school English for seven years. She left her career when her son was born in order to raise her family. She blogs at Thoughts from the Pew in the Back. In her inaugural essay, Michaelyn takes on a tough issue: whether to place small children in preschool.
I have a confession to make: I am the mother of a preschool dropout.
I’ll admit, it took me a little while to get used to the idea. For months, I’d anticipated the start of his education, evidently with more excitement than him. But, a year ago, things didn’t go as planned. In my four years of mothering, I’m finding most things never do.
That’s how I became an “accidental” attachment parent. When our son was born, my husband and I planned to have him sleep in his beautiful, brand new crib my mother gifted us. But, our son, even in infancy, had different plans. I soon found the only way any of us could get any sleep was if he was in our bed. So, we began co-sleeping, and we were all much happier (though maybe not my mother – it was an expensive crib). The same thing happened with nursing. I planned to try to squeeze six months out of it, but a year later, my son and I still had a happy nursing relationship. I figured why ruin a good thing?
See, I had these plans for how it would all go, because I listened to the suggestions coming from the world around me. But, when I actually became a mother I found that listening to my own intuitions (and my son’s own voice) made my home a much happier place for everyone.
So, why I threw that intuition out the window when our son turned three, I’m not sure.
I could say it was because I felt left out of the conversation when all my friends discussed the preschools they were sending their kids to. I could guess it was because I thought the backpacks lining the shelves of every store we entered were just so cute. But, whatever the reasons, and despite a voice deep down inside whispering not to do it, I did. I enrolled our son in preschool.
As my mother always said, man plans and God laughs, right? And I’m beginning to think that God tells us His better plans through the laughter – or cries – of our children.
Because our son wasn’t ready for school. At all. The first two days, he muddled through, and I lied to myself that only ten minutes of crying was an indication of success. But, I guess our son wasn’t happy that his mother suddenly seemed not to be listening to his needs. I imagine in his innocent mind, he didn’t get why his mommy, who’d spent every day at home with him since his birth nurturing, guiding and teaching him, was suddenly abandoning him, even if it was only for a few hours two days a week.
Still, I tried to convince myself that all was well with him entering preschool. However, our son, who suddenly felt silenced by my ignoring his looks of dread when I left him in the classroom, found a way to make his voice heard. On the third day, he cried.
Well, sobbed, really, and he’d done so for an hour straight, the teacher said. I shudder to think that on the fourth day, I brought him back. What was I thinking? I, the mother who’d been horrified by even the idea of making my son cry it out in his crib as an infant, took my preschooler back to the place where he’d just “cried it out” in the classroom.
It took him clinging to me that morning – literally latched onto my leg so that I’d have to pry him off like a leech – for me to realize that he still needed me more than he needed any school. In their book, Hold Onto Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D., explain that “the more children are pushed, the tighter they cling” (188). By how tightly my son gripped me that morning, he was obviously being pushed too hard.
And, I finally got the message. We pulled him out of school, but friends were concerned. Weren’t we worried our son would be a social outcast? Well, though he was an only child despite our hopes to give him a sibling, not really; more time at home with us would make him more secure in relationships. Didn’t we fear he’d be academically behind his peers? It couldn’t be that hard to teach basic counting, or number and letter recognition. Weren’t we worried we taught him to be too dependent on us by giving into his tears? I couldn’t fathom that at three he was too old to have his tears acknowledged. In fact, I couldn’t imagine that any of us is ever too old to benefit from having our fears validated. It was pondering this last question that, in the end, convinced me we’d done the right thing.
Well, that, and the Bible. In the Gospels, Jesus asks, “Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread?” Our Lord then goes on to acknowledge that we know how to give good gifts to our children (Mt. 7: 9, 11, NABRE). I was reminded that as parents, we do know how to give our kids what they need, and that we don’t need society to guide us. We have God to do that.
It’s been a year since we allowed our son to drop out of preschool, and in that year he’s learned valuable lessons. We played together, and he learned to expand his imagination. We made crafts together, and he learned to create. We read books together, and he learned his letters. He helped with the cooking, and he learned how to measure. And by having his needs responded to when he was most vulnerable, he learned that he is respected, that he is heard and that he can depend on the people he loves.
But, really, I think the greatest lesson has been mine: that if we want our children to honor us, then we first need to honor them.