Daycare day one: when you’re the mom with separation-anxiety

I am writing this from the very center of the storm, my daughter’s first few days of daycare. For the brief orientation I was allowed in the classroom, my daughter quickly forgot I existed. She wandered boldly, smiling at the care staff despite their masks and chatting excitedly to the other children in her charming gibberish. She jumped in without looking back. Even as the wonder and pride warmed in my chest, my heart plummeted to my toes. This was it, the beginning of letting go.

After months in lockdown, I reflect on how my daughter has never been apart from me for more than an hour, not with family members outside our home, and certainly not with strangers. Surprisingly, she seems undaunted by a new world of delights, and gasp, other humans! After I drop her off I drifted down the street like a lost soul, feeling as if I had misplaced a limb. I put in headphones to listen to my grown up music, and even if it’s melancholy, I start to feel the stiff parts of me stretch and sigh open. I know it’s time. 

With only the help of my fully employed partner, I see myself getting more rundown each week. The relentless neighborhood park circuit and the herculean task of trying to keep our one-floor apartment both interesting to an athletic 10-month-old and relatively clean, is eating up what little is left of me after breastfeeding for nearly a year. The biggest hurdle I face is my resistance to someone else caring for my daughter. I worry, how could anyone possibly be expected to learn her every need, and know those tiny cues of fatigue or discomfort? 

As we finish up her first few days, I am not yet at the point where I can relax. I jump at every notification on my phone from the daycare’s cheery App, poised to run down to fetch her or hear that she is inconsolable without me. Every time she proves me wrong, beaming back at me from dozens of photos as she engages in an impressive array of activities I could never replicate at home. I have to admit that while the almost hourly updates are reassuring, they are also painful. They squeeze my heart in a way I cannot name. It all reminds me of the first sharp-edged days of falling in love when the moments apart are restless and hungry. I try not to race back to her even as I think of all the things I need to do before pickup. Will the constant racing that has gripped me from the day of her birth, (keep this human alive at all costs!) finally fade into the background? Will the illogical guilt? I give sitting down a try, for no other reason than to rest. I may need a few weeks to settle in. 

We are told that around six or seven months, babies usually realize that they are separate beings from their mothers. How long will it take me to let her little spirit run wild into the world? As my daughter unfurls like a brave, bright bloom towards her first year, I am astounded to see the many ways that she is different from me. My daughter’s emotions are not identical to my own, and blessedly many of my anxieties simply don’t exist for her. My fear about her feeling abandoned is my baggage. As I make room for my sadness at how quickly things are changing, I am also making room for her growth apart from us. There are other people with whom she is destined to connect and care for. I reread lines from a favorite poem to quiet my unease.

“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow…

Khalil Gibran 

Other moms have assured me that the anxiety will pass. I will look forward to the time while struggling still to finish that to-do list. For now, I tell myself that this is all okay. I even permit myself to feel joy, a wellspring of freedom found, for both her and myself. We are separating for a short while to continue our becoming. I hope we are both made braver by our love, venturing out with home in our hearts and bound to return.

Read next: How to set your child up for success at daycare

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