In two weeks, my "baby" will be graduating from preschool. I'm not entirely prepared for this, because, like almost every other red-blooded parent, I feel like it was just yesterday that I watched her take her first steps. But my daughter's first year in school has been an amazing adventure for both of us. I've learned more about myself, and more about my daughter, in this single year than I had learned in all the previous years combined. Here are the three most important lessons that I learned during my daughter's first year of school.
1. It's okay to cut the cord.
To many parents, there are few things scarier than letting a child into the big, intimidating world of "real" school. After four years of homeschooling and attachment parenting, I was honestly terrified that my daughter would struggle with being away from me for a full school day. Who would kiss her boo-boos? What would happen if her teachers didn't understand her needs? What if none of the other kids liked her? Strangely (or predictably!) enough, none of these problems turned out to be problems at all. My savvy, independent kiddo marched proudly into her first day of Pre-K and, though she had her struggles over the course of the year, none of them involved missing Mommy or being unable to adapt to a classroom environment. And I, with the new-found freedom of having time without a child attached to my hip, learned my own valuable lessons about autonomy and growth. As it turns out, it really is okay to let our kids be independent. Our "babies" can make it in the new world of the Big Kid whether we expect them to or not.
2. Self-esteem is the most important lesson a young child can learn in school.
I'm both proud of my daughter and slightly disappointed in her preschool because she didn't learn any new academic lessons during her first year in school. However, she did learn perhaps the most valuable lesson of all, and I hope that she'll remember that lesson for the rest of her life. My little girl had only been in school for a few days when I started hearing about the class bully-- a spiteful, cruel little twerp who constantly tormented my daughter and her classmates. My daughter learned to take his barrage of insults in stride. When he harassed her for wearing boys' clothes, she nonchalantly responded, "You're mistaken. These are my clothes and I'm a girl." When he made fun of a child with a speech delay, calling the girl "stupid," my daughter stood up for her quiet friend and later told me, "I think that some kids like to call other people stupid because it makes them feel that they're better." I'm glad that my daughter knows how to love herself, stand up for herself, and defend people who are weaker. The lessons she learned from social challenges will be far more valuable in the years to come than singing the ABCs.
3. My daughter isn't perfect-and that's okay!
When I only had myself and my partner around to judge how smart or well-behaved my daughter was, it was easy to fall into the illusion that many stay-at-home moms with young kids have. Although I knew, objectively, that my daughter wasn't perfect, I still had it in my mind that she was truly exceptional. I expected that she would blow her teachers away with how brilliant and kind she is. And, while her test scores were outstanding and her teachers reported that she was "compassionate, curious, and very bright," I had to face one very simple fact: she's just a kid. She's a kid who, despite being my favorite person in the world, has her own struggles, imperfections, and moments of emotional instability. She has tantrums. She has bad days. She has trouble using scissors. She doesn't always obey her teachers. It's with the knowledge that she is "just" a kid, as imperfect as any other, that I'm able to truly say that I'm happy with her first year of school-and I couldn't possibly be more proud of the person I'm watching her become every day.
What lessons did you learn during your child's first school year?
Juniper Russo is a freelance writer and work-at-home mom. When she's not busy taking care of her eccentric five-year-old daughter and her two rambunctious pets, she writes about a diverse array of topics including health, pets, parenthood, and science.