I thought I had a few years before I had to deal with this.
I was prepared for some sadness that comes with parenthood. The kind of sadness that comes when your baby turns one and you realize they aren't a baby anymore, or when they take a tumble and hurt themselves and you realize it was probably your fault they fell over that laundry basket in the first place....that kind of thing. I figured the bigger stuff was a few years off. The leaving home/breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend/saying "I hate you mom" for the first time...THAT bigger stuff.
In this month's Today's Parent magazine, there was an article that talks about how to deal with your child when they've been rejected for the first time. Most of the children they were writing about were in the 8-9 age range. Kids that were joining a sports team for the first time, or entering the challenging social pool at school and finding out they may not have as many friends as the other kids. While reading, I was relieved to think that I had a few years before I had to figure out how I was going to cope with this. I think watching your child be rejected, while an important part of their growth and development, must be an awful experience for any parent.
My biggest fear in life is being a Helicopter Parent. I believe my job is to teach my children to be confident and self aware so I can release them into the big bad world to find their way. Obviously, along the way there will be lessons to teach them independence etc. In these early years, I'm trying to figure out my children's personalities in order to determine which "lessons" will serve them best. My oldest child is proving to be a challenge.
My first born is very social and outgoing. He plays well with others and likes to be outside. Having said that, he is also timid in new situations that don't involve me or daddy and can be overly cautious. He doesn't necessarily like trying new things, but once he has done something a few times, he loves it and will want to keep going. He's never backed away from anything, but in a new situation it often takes mommy being RIGHT THERE to keep him involved. This can be frustrating and endearing all at the same time. As he gets older and is edging ever closer to going to school, I want to ensure that he has the confidence to want to try things without me, and the independence to know he can.
We have a pool and it is important to both my husband and I that all of our children are a) comfortable around water and b) want to be in the water. So far, we have given birth to two little fish. This past summer, both boys wanted to be in the water all the time. Because of this, and because we are going to have three kids next summer, I decided to enroll the oldest in lessons this fall. I wanted to encourage him to continue to learn, but I was also hopeful that lessons would teach him a bit more independence. I was apprehensive when registering him as it became clear the only level he could be accepted in because of his age was a class with no parent participation. I wasn't sure how it would go, but decided to try it after being reassured we could drop out if it didn't seem like he was ready. The level was for ages 3-5, which is where part of my concern lay. There is a big difference between a three year old and a five year old -- especially when the three year old in question is my smaller-than-normal child.
The first class was okay, mostly because I was in the water too. Class two there was a different teacher, and she didn't let my son's tears and fear bother her, which was good, but it was still stressful to watch. I was pretty sure I wanted to pull him out of these lessons as it was clear he just wasn't ready for what they were teaching to his four and five year old peers. But, I decided to give it one more week because I also don't want to teach my children that it is okay to quit. BIG MISTAKE. It was the same teacher as week one. My poor child was scared to go into the water, but I convinced him that it was okay to sit on the edge with the other kids and at least watch what was going on -- which he did. He continued to sit on the edge for twenty minutes (this is a thirty minute class) without being acknowledged or helped into the water. I don't think it phased him as I'm sure he didn't want to go into the water, but I was sitting back watching my child be ignored, and I'm pretty sure that to date, this is the most difficult thing I've ever encountered. He sat there so quietly, just watching the other kids, and it nearly broke my heart. Sure, I'm pregnant and hormonal, but I spent the entire time fighting tears as I watched the teacher help every other child and continually pass mine over. When the teacher finally got out of the water, I asked him why he was ignoring my son, and he said he thought he was just "some kid watching the class" -- he had FORGOTTEN him! There are seven kids per class -- I would think that they'd be pretty easy to remember, especially the one who is the smallest and the scardest! After I finally convinced this teenage teacher that I wasn't crazy and my son was in his class, my poor boy finally got in the water....at 5:29pm, 1 minute before the class was due to end. I was livid and more convinced that the timing was wrong for my little "lesson in independence". We made it to the changeroom where I burst into tears because my heart was hurting from the pain I had inflicted on my son. I couldn't believe that such a small act of rejection had made me so upset. I'm never going to survive their childhood at this rate.
As my son hugged me and asked repeatedly "you okay mommy?", I realized that my son is incredibly sensitive and empathetic already. Maybe those are much more important qualities for a three year old anyway. One day he'll be independent and will want to do things on his own, without me. But empathy is a much harder thing to teach, and he seems to have it down pat. So what if he wants to be with me? Obviously I've done something right.