One mom’s struggle with school anxiety

OCTOBER 26, 2015 By Layney Wells

The past

The summer before I started kindergarten, I was thrilled. I had a sense that school was going to be a smashing success for me, that I was going to be the happiest I’d ever been. I never could have known how wrong I was.

I won’t contest that it was an enormous privilege to go to one of the best schools in the country, nor that I received an excellent education. I won’t say that I had no friends, nor that there were no good teachers or good days.

The reality of my experience is much more complicated than that though. Sure, kids can be cruel, but what is harder to accept, and takes more effort to reconcile, is that the adults entrusted to teach and nurture, to advocate and intervene, are sometimes just as (if not more) imprudent and cruel.

The eight years I spent at this prestigious institution were a nightmare. By the time I left and went elsewhere, I school was ruined for me.

The present

Since well before my children could walk, I have fretted about the day I would have to send them off to school. Each year, I have researched and weighed the possibilities to keep my anxiety at bay. Each year I have pushed the feelings of impending doom aside and tried to reassure myself that I have time and that I will figure this out.

Now they are four, and time is running out. After putting them to bed on their last birthday, I stayed up for a good long cry. I was a little bit heartbroken that they’re growing up so fast, that I have only one more year before I pack their lunches and drop them off, before life as we know it is over.

The worries

Aside from my own dark past, there are many things I find troubling about most schools these days. The amount of time spent sitting down and indoors, outdated textbooks, the amount of homework sent home. Maybe it’s the rebel in me, or the earthy crunchy granola mom. Maybe I’ve read too much about child development, or maybe I haven’t read enough, but it doesn’t sit well with me. It doesn’t seem right.

Life has changed immeasurably since I was a kid, and along with it, so have schools. Things our parents never had to worry about — school shootings, emergency plans, hours upon hours of standardized testing, and major bullying, are now among the top concerns of parents, according to school officials in my district. Those are topics officials expect parents ask about, and they have answers ready.

The thing is, my alma mater had answers too. Answers, and plans, and administrators with very impressive resumes. None of those things were worth anything when it came down to it. None of the protocols and procedures in place were ever carried out, so forgive me if I seem a bit cynical, if I take every answer with a grain of salt.

The future

As badly as I want to put it off, put it out of my mind, the day is fast approaching. There is still time to change my mind, but in all likelihood we will likely be enrolling the twins in kindergarten at our local school.

In reality, they are quite different from the child that I was, with completely different circumstances. Logically I know this. I know that it would awful to impose my own doubts and anxiety on them before they have even begun, and I would never forgive myself for an act of such carelessness, so here is my promise:

I promise to keep it to myself. To metabolize my own anxiety so that my children do not inherit it.

I promise to separate as best I can, the past from the present, so that their journey is wholly their own.

I promise to be involved, to know firsthand what is going on inside the classroom.

I promise to listen, with an open mind, and my whole heart, to what they say, and to what they can’t put into words.

I promise to trust my children.

I promise that if the day ever comes (and I hope that it doesn’t) that I find they are miserable, that they are fading, that school is breaking them down, as it did me for so many years, that I will not just wait for it to pass.

I will do everything I possibly can to set their world right, whatever it entails.

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