When we brainstorm essential qualities of a good parent, we do not often envision a parent who lets go of their child. Praiseworthy parenting qualities usually are active (feed, clothe, care, nurture, discipline, etc…), while letting go seems a bit passive. Fellow parents, though it may be counter-intuitive, it is that time of year to take a step back, so that your child can take a step forward. It is time to let go.
In my early months of parenting, a friend of mine did not want her child to learn to crawl. However, her baby was determined to crawl, but every time the baby would pop her bottom up into the air to assume crawling position, her mother would push it down gently with a laugh. It was a little unsettling to watch this interaction between a baby, who was ready for more freedom, and a mother who was not ready to relinquish her control over her baby, but I can’t pretend to be “above” hindering my children’s progress.
The truth is that every parent is guilty of occasional suppression of their child’s development. Whether it is as obvious as physically popping a child back into a helpless position or as sophisticated as dropping bits of psychological doubt here and there, we’ve all been guilty of suggesting to our children that maybe they are not ready to progress, when the truth is that we are ones who are not ready to let go.
I write this article as parent who is just days away from sending my eldest child to kindergarten at a large public school. Panic set in when my son’s new principle made an appalling suggestion that I should send my 5 year old to school on the first day, on a bus, without anyone there to guide him safely to his classroom. Contrary to my negative overtures, my husband agreed with the principle and so I had to ask myself whether my first day jitters are sprouting from a genuine fear for my son’s well being or are from my own desire to be needed.
At this stage in my life, the most significant tasks that I accomplish each day involved my children. Perhaps my apprehension to my son starting kindergarten is a sign that I am afraid of redefining my identity and purpose as his parent and not about my son being thrust into a situation that he is not ready to tackle.
If you are a fan of the show Arrested Development, you are familiar with the character Buster. For readers who do not know of Buster, he is a middle-aged man who lives with his mother and behaves like a 7 year old boy. His mother, Lucille, oppresses him and makes him reliant upon her and, accordingly, he fails to mature.
Of course, Buster and Lucille are just caricatures of an unhealthy mother-son relationship, but there is truth behind the joke. It is healthy for children to need their parents, but it is unhealthy for parents to need their children. Babies come into this world, completely dependent upon their parents. As they grow each month, they slowly shed layers of their dependence and eventually (20 years later) re-cloth themselves in independence. We shed tears of joy and sorrow as our children progress because as they reach for something new, they are also letting go of us.
The good news, Fellow Parents, is that we have about 20 years to enjoy our dependent children and that within those 20 years there is never a dull moment. Our roles and responsibilities are ever changing. We begin our parenting journey completely responsible for our precious children, and end our journey with our children taking on the responsibility of caring for us.
As we look at the weeks ahead and prepare to drop our little ones at preschool, day care or kindergarten for the first time, let go. Save your tears for a friend’s shoulder and if your child catches you crying, tell him they are tears of joy because are so proud of him (which is partially the truth). If your child lets go of your hand at the classroom door, let go of theirs and if they cling to you with tears, gently help them let go of you.