“Just don’t be one of those helicopter parents,” said my mom during a conversation we were having about Attachment Parenting. "Of course not", I told her, "I want my daughter to try everything!" In practice, however, it took a while to understand how to balance Attachment Parenting with letting go.
My daughter, Petra, was happy so long as she was carried and wouldn’t sleep without being close to us, and all the other little Attachment Parenting principles had fallen into place naturally. Responding to her every cry (especially when that was her only language), feeding her lovingly, using positive reinforcement rather than traditional 'discipline', and easing gently into new situations with encouragement and closeness: they were along the same lines as the tenets my parents practised, too, though the Attachment label didn’t exist at the time. I found the ideas to be the most natural to abide by especially since there was never a shortage of arms for her to find safety in: I was around during the day, my mom was over in the mornings, my dad loved to look after her, and my husband looked forward to being with our new little family after work and on weekends. I felt fortunate to be able to take her to classes like sign language, music, movement, and swimming and to cuddle her all night. Petra and I were together all the time and never did I think she was missing out on anything.
But at some point, bits of life must become unparented.
Ballet was the first class in which we signed Petra up knowing she’d be going into the studio herself, and my husband and I were a mixture of nerves and excitement about the first day. Studio One was a familiar place—Petra’s Auntie Nikki and Auntie Jacq are both dance instructors there, it was even home to her first birthday party, so when she went in by herself willingly for the first few classes, we were happy but not terribly surprised. Attachment Theory says that when a child feels a solid bond with her caregivers and knows their safety net is always available, their confidence is built to tackle the world around them. Naturally, I felt triumphant! So triumphant, in fact, that we decided to give preschool a try at 18 months.
Praise be to Alerces Spanish Immersion for allowing me to hide in another room, ready to swoop in if needed because after a smooth start, an hour and a half with only several small sobs, and then the kind of cry that could not be comforted by anyone but her family, I totally was needed. In a bout of mom ego, I had grossly overestimated what my not-yet-two-year-old could emotionally take on.
The next week at ballet, that poor little darling clung to me with a death grip and thankfully her instructor, Miss Shauna let me sit in because having me there was truly the only way Petra could be convinced to step into the studio. When the next week of ballet rolled around and the same scene played out, I worried that I’d broken our trust irreparably. “We’ll be right outside the studio,” my husband and I promised, but she would not believe us. My husband took that week's in-class shift. For months, we would trade off sitting in class, moving closer and closer to the door but never going through it. Petra loved class so much, loved Miss Shauna, but was nervous to let a parent out of sight and we had agreed that crying it out wasn’t our angle.
Then, one day a few weeks out from the yearly dance school recital, Miss Shauna asked us to leave Petra with her. That it would be okay. We explained plainly to Petra what would happen, that we’d be there when the studio doors opened and to enjoy her time with Miss Shauna, and handed our now-crying child to her loving instructor. When that door closed, I felt awful. Was I betraying my child again? I’d vowed to myself never to let her cry alone when my arms were there. But you guys, it took ONE MINUTE for the tears to stop because, of course, she had Miss Shauna’s arms and she trusted their care. By the time the recital rolled around and Petra was required to be away from us for two full hours in a green room full of dancers, I could hardly believe the positive transformation.
I see now that Petra will always take her time building trust completely in a non-family member, and that it’s okay! We learned from the experience of dropping her off at preschool cold we began to approach new relationships by being in every one with her before bowing out. The first time we got a babysitter, my husband and I spent time playing with Petra alongside Mary before heading out for a short jaunt and soon, Mary could spend a whole night and Petra would be excited about it. Petra’s first swim instructor, Sophie, built the kind of trust with Petra that has resulted in going underwater and doing back floats all by herself—that’s after two straight years of Red Cross lessons with me where she’d cry if water splashed in her eyes. But the biggest trust win saw us come full circle: Petra absolutely thriving in preschool. Alerces allowed me to come into the school for the first bit, backing away at my own discretion and keeping me in the loop as to how she’s doing every day. She absolutely adored her teacher Carmen and has made many friends on her own… things that wouldn’t have happened had I been shadowing.
These relationships that don’t include myself or my husband are proving to be more beneficial than I imagined. Not only does Petra relate differently to different people, causing her to learn and try things she wouldn’t otherwise, the independent navigation they require develops her sense of self. I can’t go back in time to warn myself that a cold drop-off would be a shock to Petra’s system, but what I can do is be grateful for the lesson and appreciate that everyone in our lives was accepting of her pace.
Now three and a half, my daughter is confident and her boundaries are clear. She shone in camps all summer long, she introduces herself to other kids on the playground, and she says "no" when she doesn't want to do something. I think that self-assuredness is more than her nature and I have to credit the Dr. Sears site for getting us through the questions I had in how to leave my child in the care of a stranger without ditching the principles of Attachment. Petra has her own little life at school, at the dance studio, in the pool, and with her friends and it'll only continue to grow which, for me, means placing trust in the many teachers who deserve it as well as in my daughter, so she can explore the world without me.