Yesterday was a big day for us as a family. Those who haven't had the joy of an overly dependent child don't understand how hard it is to reach necessary milestones, and encourage your timid kid to stay somewhere without you. People kept telling me, "He'll be fine once you leave, don't worry, he has to learn to do things on his own."
Before I had William, I would've happily doled out the same advice. It's meant to comfort, but when a child is so anxious you can see it in their face, and their body betrays their worry with red eyes and an upset tummy, it's not so easy to gloss over it. Other parents probably thought I made a mountain out of a molehill, and it's possible I did, but pushing William to do something he's afraid of is a very big task indeed, and it usually goes horribly wrong somewhere, and I feel embarrassed and frustrated by his dependency and fear.
Seeing the psychologist made all of the difference for me. I had to admit that I needed some help, that I was flailing on my own, and that William came first instead of my own needs as his parent. That appointment was the turning point. In a fifty minute session, she gave me practical solutions to this problem, and the pinprick of light I saw at the end of the tunnel widened to become something I could follow to get us out of the dark and into a new way of relating to each other.
The next day we put her suggestions into practice, and suddenly there was breathing space all around. I spent a lot of time talking to William honestly about what he was afraid of, naming each thing, and somehow this open discussion took the venom out of most of his anxiety. Instead of my usual approach, which was to say, "Don't be silly, you'll be fine, don't worry about everything", I followed the psychologist's lead and said, "I know it's scary to go away from me. It's okay to be scared. When I'm scared, I take a deep breath and remind myself that I'll be alright."
Having permission to own our feelings and not have to hide them is deeply freeing. It gives us space to accept ourselves as we are, not as we would prefer to be, and allows us to grow and change where we were once stuck in our own fears. I saw this transformation, not only in William but also in myself over the last week. The payoff came at his new preschool door, where he cried silently but didn't wail or cling, and before Jason was in his car, William had calmed down and started to participate with his teachers and his friends.
When I picked him up after lunch, he was beaming from ear to ear, with the biggest grin I've ever seen on his face. He had faced his fear, and found out he was stronger than he thought. We gave him some strategies to manage his anxiety, and allowed him to acknowledge his fear, and accepted him for who he is and not who we wanted him to be. We all learned a lot, and as a family we could rejoice in the reward of how successful his first morning was. Parenting is hard work, and sometimes, when it all clicks into place and works, you feel like you are soaring.