The one thing to do when you pick your child up from school

It’s crazy how messy kids can get at school. Every morning, when I drop Ayva off, she is put together so well. Her hair is neatly pulled back in a ponytail with her little headband. The cuffs of her bright white socks are carefully folded, and she looks like a little Catholic school doll.

By the time I pick her up in the afternoon, I barely recognize her. Her hair is all over the place, her headband is MIA, and she often looks like she went on a hike in the woods instead of spending time climbing monkey bars on the play structure. I remember picking her up once and she had a big ole’ black eye after a raucous day at school. Once, instead of the plaid jumper that she went to school in, she was wearing an entirely different outfit by the time school was over.

An entirely different outfit, y’all.

Yeah. I have no clue how that happened, either.

Before I criticize, I do this…

No matter how shocked I am at Ayva’s appearance when I pick her up, I do the same thing every day. Instead of pointing out what I see that looks out of place, or nitpicking and questioning her, I smile and say hello. I give her a hug or a kiss, ask her how her day was, and let her know that I missed her before going into hypercritical mom mode.

In doing that, not only am I building her esteem, I’m also helping her to see me as someone she can confide in. I want to know what Ayva is going through in school. I want her to feel comfortable telling me everything. If I don’t give her the chance to do that because I’m so busy nagging now, I can’t expect her to want to talk to me.

A long time ago, well before I even thought about having a child, I saw Maya Angelou talking about parenting on Oprah. She shared how, instead of looking at what was wrong with their children, they should look at them and see what is right. She encouraged the parents who were watching to smile when their children walk into a room and let their kids know that they are loved, and that they are welcome in the space.

That lesson has stuck with me all of these years. I’m not perfect, so sometimes I do get it wrong, but for the most part, love first, correct later is how I do things when it comes to my girl.

As a working mom I’m always so busy all of the time. I often think of things in terms of “how long is this going to take me” and “please don’t let this mean more work for me.” Kids can sense that, though, and we can’t treat them like another chore. Clothes can be washed, hair can be brushed again, but the feeling that mom was always annoyed when she picked me up can be incredibly detrimental to a child’s psyche.

The first thing I do when I pick her up from school is start a conversation. We can figure out the hair, the clothes, and homework later. None of that is more important than building a strong relationship and long-lasting connection.

So, greet your child. Laugh at the transformation that happens from morning to after school, and just relax, Mama. They’re only little and dirty once.

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