Last week, my kindergartener went viral.

I posted a picture of the two of us, sitting on the kitchen floor in the anxious minutes before we left for her first day. My 11-year-old daughter snapped the photo, and I posted it because it felt real—representative of the story beyond those smiling first-day-of-school shots flooding social media.

Thousands of parents commented and shared the post, saying they recognized that bittersweet ache of kids growing up before our eyes.

But something’s been bothering me about another response that’s popped up few times: “Stop coddling your kids—the problem with youth today is parents like you who refuse to let them grow up.”

Respectfully, that’s flat-out wrong.

Sometimes I worry there’s a quiet epidemic creeping into our culture, and it’s not coddled children—it’s adults who seem to forget kids are kids, not miniature grown-ups.

Kids—especially the age-5 variety facing down the biggest transition of their lives to-date—don’t have the skill set we do as adults. They don’t have a working knowledge of how to identify anxiety and other big feelings, how to rationalize them, how to cope with the effects on their small bodies and minds.

I’m no psychologist, but I am a parent, who was once a child.

And sometimes, a child simply needs a hug from her mother.

There are times our kids need us to sit with them in their feelings, to let them know what their hearts are saying isn’t weak or bothersome or shameful. And even though they might not be able to articulate those feelings, as parents, part of our job is to be attuned enough to the children in our care to see them—and react accordingly.

Even if that means shedding a tear or two with them.

That’s what I wanted to do for my daughter in our kitchen that morning. I wanted her to know it was OK to feel nervous, that crying didn’t make her weak—in fact, it made her a tiny bit stronger than she’d been the day before.

Because maturity isn’t born of force; it’s coaxed out of childhood through compassion.

We want our kids to become adults who are strong, confident, and kind, yes. We hope for them to have compassion, sensitivity, and grit, absolutely.

And they will.

But they’re still learning.

They’re just children.

And we get to love them—through the smiles and the tears.

Originally published on Assignment: Mom

Carolyn Moore

Carolyn traded a career in local TV news for a gig as a stay-at-home mom, where the days are just as busy and the pay is only slightly worse. She lives in flyover country with her husband and four young kids, and occasionally writes about raising them at Assignment Mom