Fake it ’til you make it

During my son’s earlier years, I wasn’t a confident parent. And the problem was wildly exacerbated during daycare drop-offs. 

Instead of emitting calm during the hand-off, I would respond to my son’s every effort to resist our separation.

Oh, honey, you don’t want me to leave? How about one more hug? OK: How about I sit here for a bit and play and then try to leave? (Uh, honey, you HAVE to let go of my neck.)

I would try walking him over to the toy bins and anxiously attempt to engage him with toys, so I could gently fade out of his sphere of influence. 

Oh, wait. That didn’t work? You still want me here? Maybe I should just stay all day? I’ll just quit my job. 

Then panic would set in: How could I be a good mother if I leave my son behind, crying EVERY MORNING? Desperate, I would think: How can I show him how much I love him? Because I do. So, so much.

And yet, truth be told, I was elated to get away, too. Daycare drop-off was the brink of freedom. Indeed, I was ready to get in the car to listen to music alone and to arrive at work where I could pee whenever I wanted and talk to grownups about grown-up things.

Then I felt guilty for wanting to flee my own child!  

Finally, one day, one of the daycare teachers — bless her heart — was kind enough to be blunt: Look, lady, the longer you stay, the harder it is ON HIM. If you can be quick about it, it really is much better. We got this!

So I listened. And I started to do something I’ve done many times over since then: I faked it. And my son was much, much calmer about saying goodbye. I’d confidently give him a big hug, hand him off (so he couldn’t cling to me) and then I’d walk away — fake happily. 

In this issue, our annual Child Care Issue, you can read all about this strategy — and others — in our story about mastering the art of the daycare drop-off. (Do we parents really ever “master” anything? I'd argue no. But we can try.)

Assuming nonchalance was a hard lesson for me: Often you can’t be sincere with your kid (for his own good). You have to play a role. You have to emit confidence, so your kid can have it, too. It’s like a gift you can give your child.

Now my son doesn’t have to fake confidence when we say goodbye; he can just feel it, all on his own.