The constant battle

This morning as I dropped Thalia off in the preschool gym, she did something she hasn’t done…well, ever. She took off her jacket (as she always does) and put down her lunchbox (as she always does), she asked me to watch her run three laps (as she always does), and then as I hugged her goodbye, she clung to me desperately and wailed.

She begged me not to leave. Even as her friends tried to comfort her and the sweet boys in her class held her lunchbox for her. Even as one boy volunteered, “I’ll play with you today, Thalia!” She just stood there clinging to my legs and crying.

As I left her sobbing in the arms of her teacher, I wished so hard that I could just be 100% mom at this very moment. Not someone’s employee. Not someone’s creative director. Not someone’s writer or editor or strategist needing to solve all the pressing advertising issues of our day. Not someone dressed in work clothes with a MetroCard in hand and a to-do list a mile long.

Just a mom who could pick my four year-old daughter up in my arms, take her home and say, “Okay honey, let’s go home and be together. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

But that’s not all I am today. And there’s nothing I could do.


61 thoughts on “The constant battle”

  1. i am having those feelings right now too. my son is two. we are at an home daycare where he has been and thrived since he was 4.5 months old. in the last 3 months he has not been doing so well. we've been hearing not so glowing reports re: his interactions with other children. thursday it was strongly suggested we find other care starting in April.

    miraculously in DC we have found a place that we like and has an opening. i am just praying that he will adjust and do well. personally i feel we are at the crossroads of whether it's “terrible twos” behavior or perhaps a forcast of some larger problem down the road. conversely we don't experience anywheres near the behavior with him at home or on the weekends. we do not spank and he does not watch violent programming. we are trying to reinforce good behavior.

    part of me thinks that maybe he needs to be home with me or my husband, part of me is dying just to take this next year off and see how he does when he's three. but we can't. we need our jobs. we have a house. we don't have family here. and it is all crushing me right now. thank you for your post; its nice to know that i am not alone.

  2. That's no fun. But do you think maybe a few minutes after you left she dried her tears & went off to play? That's what my son often does. Try not to take it personally. 🙂

  3. As a “100 percent mom,” I can say I'd probably have done the same thing as you did anyway – I would've told her she'd be fine, hugged her extra-hard, and then left. Don't be so hard on yourself. They're always fine two minutes after we leave. Yes, it still sucks.

  4. Wow…I feel for you. I stay home so I don't know what it's like to do what you're doing every single day, but I have the UTMOST respect for you doing it. Whether to stay home or work is not an easy choice to make and neither one is hearts and roses all the time. Hugs to you and extra hugs to your little girl when you see her after work…

  5. Sending huge hugs. We've been there. As I think I told you, our kindergarten drop offs (wailing, clutching) took about 3 months to finally smooth out. UGH. xoxo

  6. Oh man, looks like we had similar mornings. The worst part is when my husband watches me leave and sees my son cling to me and wail, but when he leaves, Gabi waves and says, “Bye Papi,” and keeps playing.

  7. I have those moments…well- the 100% mom moments all the time. I have a kindergartner and a 2yr old and wish I could be fully there. I'm lucky to be able to work 30hrs but oh so wish it could be less. Never thought I'd say that but motherhood is the BEST! Big hug to you today!

  8. I am another one of the stay at home moms who has also experienced this. Not working outside the home does not prevent the horrible way you had to start your day.

    I always knew that my son would tell me he had a great day when I picked him up from preschool. But standing out of his sight in the hallway listening to him wail that knowledge did not make it any easier. However the option of just taking him home would not have helped. He needed the stimulation that preschool provided and he needed to learn before Kindergarten that school is important and he can separate from me.


  9. it probably isn't any comfort to know that a SAHM 1) would probably not have offered to take her home and 2) thinks you did the right thing. But having done both ends of the spectrum, I know it sucks. It sucks SO MUCH.

  10. Oh, God, I know the horrible torment this engenders. My girl did that the other day. But it was hysterical clinging and weeping.

    The worst part was this seemed to require a kindergarten teacher-vice principal conference. Like Yalta! Where the assumption was I must be some kind of bad mother since my kid would not just march down the hall when I said 'time to go.'

    –Do I put her to bed too late?
    –Why does her dad sometimes carry her in to school? Vice Principal literally said sarcastically 'is there something wrong with her legs?'
    –She just has to learn to adjust to the world, the world will not adjust to her.

    All for a crying 5 year old. Truly awful experience. Luckily a few people at the school understood that this would be upsetting for me and reassured me she was happy the whole day.

    They just love us and need us. There's no getting around that. Kids like being with their parents. Families don't get to spend enough time with each other. And then there's the normal independence/separation. It's really a tough one.

  11. I have a story that I hope will make you feel better.

    My work is so flexible that I actually can say, “Let's go home and try again tomorrow,” and I have. And you know what? For us, it's not a great idea.

    If I do things like that, I get a screamy kid to deal with a for a few weeks as he figures out whether he can renegotiate ALL the boundaries by having breakdowns.

    We all have bad days, and telling your kid that she'll be okay, her friends can help her through, the teacher is there for her too? Those are valuable life lessons on getting through tough times. It tells her that you believe she's strong, which she is.

    It's awful to pull yourself away from an upset child, especially when the behavior comes as a surprise, but I think it's often the best thing to do.

    The only difference between what you did and what I would do is that I would have the “luxury” of standing outside the school shuddering for half an hour hoping the teacher calls me to come get him so I can comfort him.

  12. Oh, I'm so sorry.

    I leave the kids in the play center when I go to the gym. Katie sobs and sobs and sobs. My informant (my son) tells me that within 2 minutes of me leaving she stops and starts playing.

    That made me feel better.

  13. I'm so sorry—very, very hard.

    My 5yo has been begging not to go to preschool, and I feel like such a jerk b/c he doesn't have to go. But, it's such a great place, he seems to love it when he's there, and (ahem) I've paid for it. So, I tell him “just a couple more months buddy” and try to tell myself I'm doing the right thing.

    It's hard.

  14. That makes my heart hurt for you. What an entirely bad moment for you as a mom.

    I am not going to turn all Hallmark on you…I just know you are a fabulous mom and this must have been such a hard moment.


  15. I am so there with you. My girl wailed and threw herself against the door of daycare every day for six months as I sat on the other side of the door and cried, waiting for her to calm down so I could drive to work late but at least relieved.

    I comforted myself and hope to comfort you by saying learning to self soothe and be soothed by others and understanding that sometimes life can't go the way you want is a powerful lesson to learn young. I really think it helps. I'm not just saying that because I went through the same thing. My girl is going through some really tough stuff in kindergarten that I can't control and I'm watching her self-soothe with the same words I told her when she wailed at daycare.

  16. I was going to say what Maggie said so eloquently — as hard as it is, she's learning something from days like these. She's learning that even though something is not to her liking at first, it can get better. That she can rely on friends and adults who aren't her parents to help her feel better. That she can feel bad, cry, and then go play — and nothing changes. As weird as it sounds, I think it might be a bit unsettling for her to know that her routine could be altered so easily.

    All this doesn't lessen the pit in your stomach, I know. Call to check on her if you haven't already.

  17. I just switched babysitters this week and was so afraid of this kind of thing. There's been food refusal, tantrums at home, hyperactivity at bedtime, and a weird bath demand, but we've avoided the cling cry. Even so, it's all made me wish I had the flexibility w/ my job to do just what you said, to turn around and go home.

  18. 15 minutes later, she was fine. But YOU get to carry the guilt around all day. And THAT'S what being a mother is all about. {hugs}

  19. I know how this can just pull at your heart! Just reading it made me feel for you! I am a reluctant stay-at-home mom who is begging to get back into work mode. Hearing about situations like these remind me how very lucky I am to be able to spend the time with my little guy. But even the SAHMs have their own doubts – like am I depriving him of interactions and fun with other kids? None of us know 100% of the time that we are doing the right thing. YOU ARE still 100% mom no matter what other obligations you have to others.

  20. I, too, had a similar experience this morning. One twin crying because she had to stay home because she had vomited all night (insert sleep deprivation), with the other twin crying because he had to go to school and couldn't stay home with dad like his sister.

    This is hard on almost no sleep.

    May your work day go quickly!

  21. My four year old son has been going through this lately too. He makes every attempt to drag out our drop off ritual – just one more game, Mommy! Just one more hug, Mommy! Just one more. It breaks my heart and I feel like the most horrible Mommy in the world. Of course his teachers tell me that 10 minutes after I leave he's fine. I'm not sure if that makes me feel better or worse. Am I that easily gotten over???

  22. Those days kill me; we will have one tomorrow when Charlie realizes that I'm leaving town and he has to stay for aftercare. Even though I know it's coming, it will still break my heart.

    Sending you lots of good mama vibes.

  23. it's never easy – even for a SAHM. i'm already thinking of going back to my career but my son keeps on tugging at the hem of my skirt…and clinging for dear life.

  24. My daughter does that every now and then too…and as you do…I always wish I could just take her back home and have a daddy/daughter day.

    Most times I can't, but there have been a few times when I have.

    Needless to say, those were very enjoyable days.

  25. Somewhat new reader, first time commenter. As a fellow working wife of a stay-at-home dad, I enjoy reading your take on parenting from our still not-too-common home arrangement. My heart was sad for you reading this post as it's so close to what I'm going through right now – in the midst of the second week of not being home for dinner and bedtime, and being asked by my 3 y/o whether I'm going to be late at work again tonight (and the crying — on both sides — when I say yes, I am). Hoping that you can have a few 100% mom days in the near future.

  26. It is just so hard, and I 100% understand. I hope when you pick her up later today she is all smiles and tells you about her amazing day!

  27. Sigh! That's the hardest part about working for me. The leaving. I never know how long to stay. How many hugs to give. How long to let my little one cling to me before handing him over to his teacher so it can be “her turn for a hug.” Because I kind of want it to keep being my turn. Big hugs… I get it. I so get it!

  28. Those days suck, out loud and so bad. 🙁

    Usually the kids are OK within moments of your exit, but it's just not a good way to start the day for anyone.

  29. Argh. Nothing makes me feel worse as a mom. “Sorry, babe! Love ya! Hope you stop crying soon! Gotta run to that meeting that is way less important than you but I'm going anyway…” Back in July, I wrote a post about my 2 year old's inability to be dropped off without mega tears. Clearly that's not Thalia's issue, but if you need some humor thrown your way on the subject, check it out.

    (she won't care about it at all by the time you see her next…)

  30. I feel for you! And for your daughter! You are strong & so is she. This experience, and many more like it that you will inevitably face, are only making you both stronger women.

  31. Thanks for writing this. Sometimes there's nothing that helps more than knowing you're not the only person to feel this way, so you are not the only person who feels this way. I dropped my kid off today and had to run out the door before he saw me leaving because the sobs, they kill you. I hate starting the day off with sobs. No one should have to.

    Thankfully, he's always happy to see me when I pick him up.

  32. Kate has been challenging me in a similar way on and off this year (she's 3).

    “I don't want to go to school.” daycare, really. “I don't want you to go to work.”

    And crying if I do the drop off (my husband usually does it). That is the WORST.

    And I feel exactly that same way. That I wish I were in the position to say, “You know what? Let's stay home today.” We'd bake cookies (okay, we'd go buy cookies) and do arts & crafts, and go for a walk.

    And then i get scared about thinking that way because it would be bad if I lost my job. But at least Kate and I could hang out a little more.

  33. It's terrible and wonderful all at the same time to be needed so completely. So much of being a mother is about the juxtaposition of those two adjectives, isn't it?

  34. My heart hurts for you. But let me give you the SAHM perspective: I take her home and three minutes and twenty seconds after she gets there, she's like, “I wanna go to school!”

    This has happened to me. More than once.

    Feel any better? 🙂

  35. And this is why my husband usually does day care drop off.

    I left a wailing three year old today. Hubby had to take someone to the airport, so I did drop off, and yeah… I gave her a hug, I pointed out he friends playing, and she smiled and said she wanted to play with them. And then I put her down and she clung to my legs and cried.

    I don't know about you, but we go in and out of phases of good drop offs where she waves cheerfully and shouts “bye bye!” and wailing drop offs where you'd think I was leaving her with a pack of torturers. There are actually developmental reasons for some of these phases (for instance, separation anxiety onset at about 9 months- my favorite site that discusses this sort of thing is the one associated with the Bedtiming book: For other phases, I have absolutely no idea what has triggered them.

    The phases are noticeable whether I do drop off or Hubby does. But she seems to handle the bad phases better when Hubby does drop off, so he does it. Plus, he handles the crying better than I do.

  36. Just when I wishing I was wishing I went back to work, even part time you share your feelings. I think I have stay at home mom burn out. I have come to the conclusion that all of motherhood is based on acceptance. Then life will run smooth…we just have to accept and you did. This too will pass and tomorrow will be better for both you and your daughter.

  37. Even if you did not have those other responsibilities, would you have taken her home? Or would you have encouraged her to stay, to push through the “I don't want to”?

    Because that's what separation is–and it's not fluid and it's filled with back and forth, with her having easy days and “I want to stay with mom” days.

  38. You know what? Sometimes even if you can be with them there are still days that feel like this.

    My husband is deployed and I'm trying to run our business without him with my 3-year old son by my side. Today I got depressed because my work was hard to do when I had to keep stopping to scoop up my boy, and when I try to vent a little on the phone to my family and friends all I hear is, “Can't you just get a sitter?” It isn't that easy.

    Your daughter is lucky to have you. I understand your pain.

  39. Ugh. I'm so sorry – nothing like a nice strong dose of gut-punch first thing in the morning.

    It's so hard to make these choices and then to have to keep on making them every single day, isn't it? Sometimes I really hate being the grown-up.

  40. I have the pick up drama instead of the drop off drama. The minute they see me, they're all happy and huggy then two seconds later they're crying because OMG YOU LEFT ME HERE ALL DAY LONG!!

    It sucks picking up babies that won't let go of your legs so they can put their jackets on because they are afraid you are going to leave them. It sucks almost as bad as the drop off tears. I feel your pain. I really do.

  41. My son only just turned one and has not done what you described yet either but hearing this story made my heart ache. I know there will be a day this may happen and after I leave him with his capable and loving caregivers, I know I will cry on my way to work. But knowing there are others out there who have been through this helps a little. but it also makes me miss him all the more when I have to deal with – the stuff (to say it nicely) – that we all have to deal with at work. Does it happen to everyone that we lose patience for many things at work b/c we'd rather be with our kids than dealing with some of the stupidity? I like a lot of my job but this has definitely happened to me.

  42. i don't understand why they put us through this, but they all seem to do it…my son (turning 4 in a few weeks) has gone through at least 3 or 4 cycles of separation anxiety, each lasting a few months. screaming and crying whenever i drop him at daycare/preschool. FWIW, i know that he always stops crying within 90 seconds of me leaving. and he always says he has fun at school. the most recent phase was this past winter. maybe for you it was just a one day thing, but if not it will hopefully be very short-lived!

  43. Been there. Am there right now, in fact. I just left work after lunch today and went and checked my son out of school. Things have been rough for him lately and well, he needed his mom.

    And I needed to be his mom. I'm so thankful this was one of the few slow days I have.

    You have my sympathy.

  44. Ugh. Bad drop offs are terrible, but even on the days I stay home, I leave my kids at school even if they cry.

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