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The Emotions Of Having A Kid In Kindergarten

Marlowe Martino on her first day of Kindergarten

I’ve always firmly believed that one cannot truly know the “type” of parent one will be or the exact values one will strive for in parenting until one actually becomes a parent.  We all have preconceived notions, of course, but something different is hatched in your mind and heart when you hold your child in your arms for the first time and really connect to your hopes and dreams for that person.  It’s a pretty difficult feeling to describe and a completely revolutionary one to experience.  

Marlowe Martino on her first day of Kindergarten

When I became a Mom, it became clear to me that the number one value system I wanted desperately to instill in my children revolved around kindness, self-love, and independence.  I think the thing that would make me the most proud of my children, and of myself as a parent, is to see them out in the world one day, making brave and solid decision on their own and navigating their own lives…without me.  Although it’s a bit of a stretch (and hella emotional), I would argue that sending a child to elementary school for the first time, is that very first sliver-of-an-example of independence from the “nest”.  Marlowe started Kindergarten three days ago, and it has definitely been a huge step in my life as a Mom.  And it’s been a little traumatizing, especially because it hasn’t been traumatizing AT ALL for her.  Do these two concepts seem completely at odds with each other? Yes, yes they do.  As do many emotions in the motherhood space, actually.  So I figured I would unpack it and share a bit about how I’m feeling this week.  

Marlowe Martino on her first day of Kindergarten

First of all, the first day of school was a big surprise to me.  I had prepared to the max: packed everything the night before, labeled extra clothes in a bag, color coordinated everything, and asked around town for any information about the school, drop-off, pickup, and teachers.  For a newbie, I felt ultra prepared, and as a Type A person, this made me feel GREAT.  As I lay in bed the night before the first day, I played out the next morning in my mind– what I would feed the kids for breakfast, what I would wear, what she would wear, the photo we would take outside our new home, which route we’d take to school, and how I’d hug and kiss her as I left her at her cubby in her classroom.  The entire morning, everything went exactly as I had planned.  I was feeling really level emotionally, and not at all on the brink of tears.  In fact, I thought to myself “Wow! I’m surprising myself here! We are all doing great!” 

Marlowe Martino on her first day of Kindergarten

Kyle and I walked her up the stairs in to the school foyer, and there were about ten volunteer moms and teachers waiting there.  They told me they’d take it from here.  And just like that, the most precious part of my plan, my “goodbye” was turned in to something totally different.  I knelt, knowing that I had to say goodbye for the first/last/whatever time to my five year old and send her in to this big, new place– and that I had to do it in front of all these people I didn’t know.  I felt so anxious and exposed, and so stupid for expecting my alternate fantasy plan to happen.  It wasn’t these people’s fault, of course, but I felt hot tears spring to my eyes and it took everything in my power to give Marlowe a tight squeeze and a smile, and watch her turn to walk happily away before I walked quickly outside and sobbed.  Kyle was really nice about it and suggested we try to go down to her room to have a “redo goodbye” I actually laughed and reminded him that the last thing our daughter needed was for me to be That Mom, who disregards school rules because she is an emotional mess.  LOL. No, this breakdown was all about ME, and really had nothing to do with how she was feeling.  In reality, she was doing great! She hadn’t even looked back at us once and she skipped down the stairs to her classroom. 

Marlowe Martino on her first day of Kindergarten

While we walked home I thought a lot about the conflict of the two things I was feeling all at once: the pain of the next “phase” of life as a parent, and the swelling pride that my child is showing signs of the type of independence I have hoped for her all her life. I suddenly realized how easy it is as parents to get in our own way when we reach these crossroads.  Needing something for ourselves, while wanted something for our kids.  I definitely don’t have the answer for this, or any other examples besides my own life as a Mom (obviously), but it has inspired me this week to remove more of my own judgements when I see conflicting behavior in parents I encounter.  My own conflicts on the first day of school were internal, but they very well might not have been.  I can see how we can need something for ourselves, and convince ourselves that it’s our children’s need instead.  

Marlowe Martino waves on her first day of Kindergarten

When I picked her up from school, I was expecting her to be relieved to see us, maybe even emotional.  I expected to see some kind of flicker on her little face that told me she had felt the length of the day in a new place and been so happy to return home. Instead, she emerged flanked by two older kids, mid conversation.  She glanced at me and flashed me the brightest, happiest smile, and continued walking with her friends up the sidewalk from me all the way home.  This time, I watched in awe and with envy.  I remembered my anxious youth, the different promises I would need to make to myself, the visible and invisible talismans, the routines– just to make it through the day at school.  And this time the tears came from relief.  I’m so proud of my girl for being exactly who she is, and having her own story– separate from mine.  I’m grateful for her confidence and independence, and while it stings a little to be an accessory now to her bigger and bolder life– I know she knows I’m always her touchstone right her waiting in case there’s a bad day.  

I would love to hear your experiences with your children starting kindergarten, and the mix of emotions! Please share in the Comments below.

Marlowe Martino on her first day of Kindergarten

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38 Comments

  1. Nancy says:

    This totally made me cry. I want a do-over with my kids!! You are raising such wonderful and resilient human beings.

    08.29.19 Reply
  2. Courtaney says:

    I’m not sure if it’s because I’m pregnant with my first baby and feeling all the emotions right now, but i’m currently crying at my desk after reading this LOL. Your love for your children shines through everyday, but it’s in these milestones that you can see just how deeply you care for them and how thoughtful you are as a parent. Leaving space for your kids to navigate their own path while being their forever anchor is a beautiful thing to watch. And yay Marlowe for already killin’ it in Kindergarten!! <3

    08.29.19 Reply
  3. Ravelle says:

    Omg!! I got choked up reading about when you dropped her off. My oldest, also a girl, just started kindergarten too. It was really hard for me to watch her walk off, suddenly mixed in with the throng of kids. She looked so small in her new uniform! I watched her look around bravely, if not a little anxiously and all of those emotions that I felt as an elementary school kid came screaming back. I just want to hold her and protect her and defend her! It’s been two weeks now, and she is thriving with this new sense of independence, and purpose. She has a little part of her life that doesn’t directly involve me, and I think it’s good for her to navigate something on her own. We prepare our kids for the path, we don’t prepare the path for our kids!

    08.29.19 Reply
  4. Heather says:

    Sobbing at my desk – thank you for writing this, it’s spot on! Feeling these same emotions with an independent, confident girl starting kinder next week and just encouraging her along the way (while feeling the angst of her growing up!).

    08.29.19 Reply
    • Alexandra Place says:

      I am in the exact same position! My daughter started kindergarten last week. On her first day, when we dropped her off and I walked away, I felt like a piece of me was left behind. What has helped me through this transition, is her happiness. Every day, she is so excited to tell me about what she learned, who she played with, who she sat with at lunch, etc,. That truly warms my heart. I want to be selfish and say she’s not ready, she needs to wait another year. While I know she is more than ready, I just want to hold on to my little girl forever.

      You are doing great and I wish you all the luck with this transition. You 1000% got this!!!

      08.29.19 Reply
  5. Jina Maloberti says:

    Hi Eva,
    It’s such a hard time teaching our kids to be independent and then we have to let them go into such an impressional world!
    I have 3 kids and when my first born went to Kindergarten I drove her with her baby brother and sister. I remember getting out and giving her a big hug and a kiss on the hand… from that bookThe Kissing Hand. It was always part of our pre school ritual. I was so excited for her and couldn’t wait to see her succeed and flourish but in the mean time I was heart broken and so sad to see our time come to an end. Each one of my kids first days was all so similar, picked out adorable first day outfits, the kissing hand and our special hug and kiss goodbye. Each one walked away so excited and proud and had the biggest smile on their faces! I was a mess and waited until I got to the car to cry and let itvall go. Like you, I realize it’s a great gift that our kids can go and be independent and have such great confidence. My kids are now 16, 14, and 12.
    The first day has changed a lot!! Lol but now I beam with pride at the site of them and how much they have grown and turned into these incredible humans! I still shed a tear, now they tease me and laugh. But it’s only because I love and enjoy the time we have together. Life is so busy now and with so many activities, sports and friends having more of a presence in their life now. But those special moments I get to steal make my head over flow!
    Enjoy your babies and keep raising great humans!!
    Take care!
    Jina

    08.29.19 Reply
  6. Karen Martin says:

    I wish I could tell you that it gets better with each phase they go through but it doesn’t and I think the way you are hashing it about in your thoughts are so on point. You are doing a great job raising your kids. Funny story. When my son was entering 1st grade, we were walking him into school with bags of school supplies – it was raining and the bags started to break and the supplies starting falling all over the place. I was frantic and my son turns around and tells his dad and I, just stick in all in my backpack Mom! Whew. Already problem solving. I wish you a wonderful year with Marlowe.

    08.29.19 Reply
  7. Alix says:

    As the mom of a 20 year old who started her career this year out in the real world (😬) don’t worry….you will have so many opportunities to be her base of safety. It’s just a testament to your parenting that she had such an easy transition to this this next phase of her young life. Enjoy every day it goes fast.

    08.29.19 Reply
  8. Alisha says:

    Isn’t it weird. I think back to that age and I was so clueless. Things that made me happy was when my mom brought snack for class that day. My daughter says she has 4 boyfriends already. I don’t even remember boys existing at that age.

    My daughter is way more outgoing than me and I seriously am envious. How does she find the courage to do stuff I wouldn’t even imagine to do as an adult.

    08.29.19 Reply
  9. Amy K says:

    I think it was Michelle Obama who said that motherhood is a Master Class in Letting Go. This is the first real lesson in what will be a lifetime of learning to adjust your own expectations and emotions and just allow your kiddos to get out there and figure out how and who to be in the world. I just sent my first kiddo off to college and, in reading your post, I had to laugh at how similar your emotional ping-pong was to my own. It doesn’t necessarily get any easier, you just get better at compartmentalizing it. And crying in your car is always okay. You’re killin’ it, mama!

    08.29.19 Reply
  10. Crissy says:

    My oldest starts Kindergarten Tuesday and I’m a mess over it. I got the morning run down yesterday when we met his teacher so we would all be prepared. She said the teachers help guide them to their classrooms the first week but after that, they’re on their own. This surprised me. How can my baby be left to maneuver through a big school alone. I know I’m overreacting because they have experience in this and yes, it will teach him independence but my momma heart worries for my sweet, anxious, sensitive boy.

    08.29.19 Reply
  11. Marianna says:

    Oh gosh Eva! This was amazing!!! Really touched my heart! I’m not a parent yet but I can feel your emotions, at least I can imagine. Thanks for sharing!

    08.29.19 Reply
  12. Julienne says:

    DESPERATELY hoping for this experience with my girl going to kindergarten for the first time on Tuesday. We have both been a nervous wreck about it…although I try my hardest to hide my feelings about it. There’s something about that lying mom smile that feels necessary right now. She doesn’t need my emotions on her shoulders as well. This momma thing can be so hard! I’m so glad Marlowe had a seamless transition!

    08.29.19 Reply
  13. Shauna says:

    We started kindergarten the 19th. She has a late birthday and was READY. She’s been ready since last year! We’ve had a countdown all summer.
    I did the same planning. Attended the orientations, asked about lunch, met the teacher 2 times, etc. We lined up as instructed and my daughter went to the front and grabbed her teachers hand. She looked at us and said “Bye! See you after school!”
    The teacher was giving instruction and all I heard in the chaos was “Just say good-bye and don’t linger” So as the bell rang and the kids trundled in with the parents – my husband and I were alone outside. We couldn’t really walk in with the teacher. We were doing the ‘should we go in and make sure she’s OK?’ deciding when all the parents started walking out. So my good bye wasn’t what I anticipated either.
    Fun (sarcastic voice here) thing that happened later: Her preschool called and let me know there was head lice in her old class. Guess what I did that afternoon? Plus calling her teacher to make sure she was able to warn/clean/advise other parents that my sweet independent kiddo had head lice. NOT WHAT I PLANNED!!!
    She is still head over heels with school. This morning she woke up and said “It’s my 9th day of Kindergarten!”

    08.29.19 Reply
  14. Marissa says:

    Her confidence and independence is amazing- go Lowie!!!
    Brought tears to my eyes!

    08.29.19 Reply
  15. Lorrie says:

    This really hit home, beautifully written…My kids just graduated HS, so I’m years ahead of you but the feelings never change for the many stages and changes💙

    08.29.19 Reply
  16. Janet Bowland says:

    I’m a newly retired kindergarten teacher -44 years. We often had BooHoo Breakfasts for parents after dropping their kids off on the first day of school. Nothing fancy -muffins and coffee and juice. It was a good way for anxious parents to share together.

    08.29.19 Reply
    • Irishchef says:

      What a greatly helpful idea – Boohoo Breakfasts – Janet. I love it.

      08.31.19 Reply
  17. Jacqui says:

    Yes. ALL OF THIS. I have all the same goals and issues as a parent and child myself. And my son is exactly the same way. I don’t do a great job at hiding my emotions from him and sometimes he reacts in a way the he thinks I want to see. Or he is often more the adult in situations and pats my head and says aww mom it’s ok. Emotions are really big sometimes. We all have them.

    I mean come on!! He’s 5!!! Any who.. Yeah.. So now he’s in charge of all our decisions AND finances.

    All kidding aside… We’re doing great. Our kids are awesome. So much better than we ever were and that’s great too. And let’s try and smile and say mmmk when they tell us to leave cuz they got this. 🥰😍❤️🧡💛💚💙💜

    08.29.19 Reply
  18. Lisa says:

    I am one week away from doing just this (first child, first day of Kindergarten) and I am anticipating just how hard it will be for ME. SHE is the psyched one. She is the one who can’t wait to meet all the new kids and her teacher. The 5 year old is taking the big kid bus without me and she is A-OK with it. This post totally hit home for me. Thanks for being so real with all the feelings.

    08.29.19 Reply
  19. Jessica says:

    Wow thank you for such a unique (and what should be obvious but never seems to be) insight! I’m not a mom yet, and have probably a few bags to unpack myself surrounding how my mom was with raising me and this actually helped me see her side in a reverse kind of way. I’ve always “known” how differently I’d hope to do things with my own eventual children so reading your thoughts on the crossroads of needs vs wants from a parent’s perspective is actually a really helpful guidepost for someone who is not yet a parent. Thanks for sharing and I hope Marlowe is having the BEST 1st week – and that you are too 😊 -Jess

    08.29.19 Reply
  20. Tara says:

    Perfect read for me! My son starts kindergarten in a few days… and reminding myself that the things I need, he doesn’t necessarily need is huge! He is so excited, fairly confident about school. My worries about him having friends in class, etc, are MInE—not his. So tough!!

    08.29.19 Reply
  21. Tish says:

    I cried when my daughters first started kindergarten. And this year I still cried when I dropped them off in 1st and 2nd grade. I didn’t show any emotions when I dropped them off, but when I got home, I started crying 😭. I was emotional because I felt that my children were becoming independent and that they are simply growing up. ⭐️

    08.29.19 Reply
  22. Meaghan says:

    My daughter just started kindergarten this month as well. She had a lot of anxiety leading up to it although she’s been in daycare, preschool and summer camps. I am so thankful the school let us know in advance we could walk our children to class the first two days only and the third day was “independence day.” I did not expect my own tears, but as she happily took her seat and said goodbye, I started choking back tears walking quickly back to the car. My biggest thing is: I don’t want the world breaking her. She’s so sure of herself and confident and kind and bright. Whose idea was this?

    08.29.19 Reply
  23. Julie says:

    My baby is now 10. I wrote this, a few years ago, about her first day of kindergarten. I’m a teacher and sending her to school hit me hard, too!

    “Today was my first day back for the 2014-2015 school year…year number eleven. It’s always tough to go back after an eventful, relaxing summer break, but this year I am finding it more difficult. Not only is it the end of alarm-less days and laid back schedules, but also a new adventure for a member of our family. In one short week, Emme will walk into an elementary school to start a new season of her life. Not sure why this is so difficult for me, but I find myself more teary than I actually thought I would be. I trust the adults at school. I know she’ll be just fine. I know she’ll love school just as I always did.

    But when I look at her, she just seems too small, too innocent, too fragile to enter a phase of life where I won’t really be. She is so bright, shiny, and beautiful. She’s so sensitive, perceptive, and caring. And a big part of me wants to freeze this time and keep her just the way she is – try to keep this summer season for a little longer.

    I would really like to be able to do that, but she doesn’t want to. She said to me a few days ago, “But Momma, I’m big.” I asked her how she feels about going to school and she said, “I’m a lot excited and a little scared, but more excited.” Tonight I was talking with her about milk money for lunch to which she replied, “I really want to buy milk. I hope I have enough money in my music box [where she keeps her money] to buy some.” That sweet little baby thought she had to use her own money to buy her milk.

    So I am trying to get the majority of my tears out this week. Hoping that by the time she goes, I’ll be a little more ready – knowing that she’d be ready to go tomorrow.”

    Sending big LOVE to all mommas.

    -Julie

    08.29.19 Reply
  24. Cristine Redmond says:

    My biggie’s first day of middle school a few weeks ago went exactly the same as her first day of kindergarten. In both instances, my sweet girl was anxious, yet brave. Apprehensive, yet excited. Her mom was the same way, btw. 😉 And in both instances, my husband checked in to see if there were any tears. “Not from her,” I said. The unknowns of sending my first kid to an elementary school I was unfamiliar with, and now a middle school that intimidates the crap out of me, affected me way more than they affected her. It gets easier in elementary school and then the rug will get yanked out from under you again. Guess this is how life goes for me now. I get used to something and then it all changes on me. I guess this is my long-winded way of saying you’ve got this mama. Watching our kids begin this chapter of life outside of our arm’s reach is scary, but watching them flourish is everything. <3

    08.29.19 Reply
  25. Caren says:

    My 3rd and final baby will start kindergarten next Wednesday. When my first child started kindergarten two years ago I thought ok I’m going to cry and an be an emotional mess but the easier it was for him the more relief I felt. I think it was because he had services, pt and an IEP so I knew his teachers and the school really well before he went. When my daughter started kindergarten last year again I was emotional but more excited for her. I missed her so much and could not wait till she got off the bus to hear about her day. Today I took my baby to meet his kindergarten teacher. He has the same one my daughter had last year. I love her and the school my kids are at. I’m emotional in that I will never have another baby entering kindergarten again. I’m taking it all in but I can’t wait for him to grow as a child. I get excited for each grade now and I love seeing them grow during the school year.

    08.29.19 Reply
  26. Heather says:

    My son just started Kindergarten in Westport too and this made me cry all over again! I was so prepared for the day in terms of the outfit, backpack, family breakfast and even knew we couldn’t walk him to the classroom. But I lost it when I said goodbye at the school door and he walked in with his giant backpack. My husband was shocked I was so emotional since I’d been so prepared until that moment. This is the first time I really feel like he has his own life and I only know about his day what he wants to share. He’s officially a little less my baby and more his own person after this week. I didn’t expect the whole “letting go” thing to happen this soon!

    08.29.19 Reply
  27. Grace Y says:

    My son also started kindergarten this week! I thought I would walk him to class everyday, but the teachers informed us they open the gates and children must walk to class on their own! All the kids were fine, but even when they were safely inside their kinder classes the moms and dads were still at the gates staring as if waiting for a last goodbye. I’ve also always had a shy boy, but he was so ready and it made me proud to see him enjoy school. It also made me teary, but then I thought of my freedom!!! Hahaha.

    08.29.19 Reply
  28. Nell Evans says:

    Eva,
    I read this article this morning and thought of you. and Marlowe’s first day…
    https://www.proverbs31.org/read/devotions/full-post/2019/08/30/time-to-celebrate-a-new-season

    It’s a new season to celebrate. 🙂

    08.30.19 Reply
  29. Lauren Brady says:

    Such a sweet post – crying and I am not even a mom yet, but can imagine it must have been an emotionally draining day! I think Marlowe’s confidence and independence in her first day is a true reflection of your and Kyle’s great parenting skills!

    08.30.19 Reply
  30. Dan Woog says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing. Honest, powerful, personal, heartfelt, real — and really interesting. Thanks for acknowledging that the world works in strange, wonderful ways. We just have to roll with it!

    08.30.19 Reply
  31. Jenn Tavares says:

    Omg! It was the same for us. I walked her down the sidewalk fully expecting to leave her in line with the rest of her class. Nooooppppeeee! There was someone waiting half way and scooped her up. I was devastated and completely lost it in the car. I messaged the teacher to check in and she was totally fine. It’s all too much! She also lost a tooth right before school… 😭😭😭😭

    08.30.19 Reply
  32. Irishchef says:

    Nicely expressed article, Eva. Very much as if I was reading my own first school day’s experience with my own daughter (who’s now your age). Now that I look back, that was a walk-in-the-park compared to leaving her on first day at college! Stay strong and carry on.
    All the best from Susan.

    08.31.19 Reply
  33. Liz dipaolo says:

    I just sent my first to college and I can very much relate to this. I’m so happy for him but so sad for myself. Enjoy every moment

    08.31.19 Reply
  34. Azalia B. says:

    Oh goodness I can only imagine how emotional you must have been! My daughter started kinder as well (mid Aug), but the way the school did it for us was perfect. I imagine because of the exact feelings you described that other parents must experience.
    On the Friday before her start day of Monday we had Kindergarten Orientation.
    Once we arrived at the front of the school there were lists posted with the names of the teachers and their students with the classroom listed.
    At a certain time we went to the Multipurpose Room where the principal had a small speech, presented the PTO team. and talked about rules, expectations, etc. We then went to our assigned classrooms to meet the teacher, see where the kids (and with whom) they would share a table. She already had lists posted on the wall for volunteers needed on upcoming parties. She had a short presentation on expectations, and we were given info on an app that she uses to communicate with the parents ..
    As we were walking out we were all so happy with how the day had gone. I even bought some spirit gear! My daughter was very excited and just like Marlowe totally unfazed LOL
    Now two weeks in we have our little routine and our new normal is not so scary.
    Oh and I signed up to be Room Mom by mistake but I think it’s going to be fun 😁
    Wishing your little family lots of luck on this school year and everything is going to be fantastic !

    Azalia

    09.01.19 Reply
  35. Vanessa says:

    I’m right there with you. My second baby just started kindergarten and I had all the emotions coming at me as well. I was happy for her but also feeling sad. Even though I had been through this already with my first. I just wanted time to slow down and savor these precious moments with her. Time goes by so quickly and I sometimes just want it to pause. Now that she is in her third week of school I can see that she is soaring in Kindergarten and I’m very proud of the confidence she is has in herself and in school With that being said I hope Marlowe has a fantastic week. Congratulations on the baby news. 💛

    09.10.19 Reply
  36. Erin says:

    My oldest started kindergarten last year and was pretty anxious about it. However, she never complained once and went every day with a quiet smile on her face. She would confide in us about what she was feeling and how she was slowly getting used to it and I remember bursting with pride at her resiliency. Even though she was nervous, she still got up every day and bravely went on the bus to school! She ended up loving school and still does.

    09.10.19 Reply