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Surviving the First Empty Nest - When Your Child Goes to Preschool

Rachel O'Reilly

By Courtney Ward

It’s that time of year when the kids have gone back to school, and us parents who stay home can catch up (on whatever we’ve been avoiding while entertaining our kids all summer and sipping spiked Arnold Palmers).

I had such excitement leading up to my daughter’s first day of preschool. The idea of my little one making new friends, the thought of packing her lunch, and the anticipation of a much needed “break” all to myself - what’s not to love? I was counting down the days.

However, dropping my “baby” off at preschool for the first time was, surprisingly, one of the hardest things I’ve encountered as a parent. If your child is like mine, they will cry and cling to you for dear life on that first day (or first few days). And you’ll have to duck out the door with your big sunglasses Anna Wintour-style, because you might be surprised that your kid isn’t the only one with the waterworks.

I knew that the first drop-off could be tough, but then hopping in the car without my little chatterbox behind me, and a few open hours ahead of me, was one of the weirdest feelings. I didn’t know if she was still sobbing or if she was peeing next to the sandbox. I can’t tell you how many times I almost went back to get her. Because so much of the toddler years, I dreamt of dropping her off somewhere for a few hours, I couldn’t have anticipated the way the feeling of emptiness would hit me like a ton of bricks.

That’s parenting for you. There are periods of time where a break is all you can think about, and when you finally get one, you don’t know what to do with yourself.

Many of you might not be at this stage yet, or you’re well into the preschool groove and past the point of empty nesting, soaking in your alone time and wondering what I’m smoking. But if, like me, you’re still adjusting to your newfound freedom, the best advice I can give is to keep yourself busy. I’ve started getting back into yoga and made it a priority to get in a workout while my daughter is at school - no excuses. I try to get a bit of extra work done, and no longer harbor that tiny bit of resentment for not being able to get my To-Do list items checked off. And after years of my life revolving entirely around another person, I’m realizing that it’s okay to allow some of my new free time to be just that -- free. I may have felt empty those first few drop-offs, but it’s worth it every time I pick her up feeling completely renewed and energized.

If you are anxious about preschool and what’s to come, know that all your feelings (even the unexpected ones) are normal, and that the anxiety passes. You will eventually love your break and wonder how a few hours flies by so fast. Preschool is a major step toward your child blossoming into the person she will become, and that’s something to be excited about.