Dear Caring Parent,
Parenting is this constant dance between attaching and letting-go. We don’t suddenly ‘let go’ of them when they are done with high school, get married or start their first career job. There are, in fact, whole phases of letting go that we experience throughout our parenting years.
It starts with becoming pregnant and letting go of the life we knew. Men and women feel it! It moves on to adjusting to having a baby in the house. And there are many times hence. It takes us by surprise. We might struggle with it!
I think of the mom who learned how to nurture her dependent baby with wonderful attunement. When she parented her toddler from the same internal heart space required of that first years attunement, it was like a slap in the face. During her daughter’s infancy, she picked her up when she cried and the baby would become soothed. Her tantruming toddler rebelled against being picked up. We can all relate to this change! This mom had to let go of those easier-to-soothe times and that ‘awwww’ feel of it. Once she became aware of aspects of toddler development, she found new ways to nurture, to attune.
It’s hard to let go when we LIKE how we are with them. But circumstances seem to be asking us to change, to find another way. A mom comes to mind. She was talking about being sick of her child forgetting his homework (7th grader). He didn’t have ADD or ADHD so it wasn’t a problem of an exceptionally distracted mind. His texts to mom, ‘bring my homework’, were wearing on her though. She was used to supporting him so the idea of not responding with ‘okay’ was dismaying. Is it really ok to just let him experience the consequence of his forgetfulness? It’s such a balancing act!
Letting Go Can Be Difficult
There are any number reasons letting go can be difficult. Letting go of
- fixing ‘it’ is hard if you are a super problem solver,
- controlling the outcome is hard if you have a strong want for your child,
- managing the day’s plan is hard if you like structured, planned out days,
- their disappointed reactions to your requests are hard if you don’t want to disappoint them, not be liked by them, or don’t like dealing with conflict,
- resolving sibling arguments is hard if you don’t want conflict (again that conflict thing) or you’re holding your breath wondering if things are going to go too far emotionally or physically.
Recognize yourself in any of those? And those are just the everyday ones that every parent goes through. For some parents, there are dreams that must be let go of when a diagnosis, accident, or life direction changes their trajectory of parenting.
But, let-go we must- if we don’t we get worn down, manipulated, stand in the way of their development into independence, lose their respect, or stay stuck in grief. Not to mention, we won’t be ready for their big acts of independence if we don’t manage the earlier letting go experiences.
The Pockets of Letting Go
Letting go seems to have pockets; categories of things we must let go of, which can be helpful to identify:
- in your child’s life– like being late all the time, their caring or not about how they dress, or they
just don’t want to read.
- between you and your child- like a conflict of some sort, rocking them to sleep, helping them with their homework.
- within you- about your impatience, nagging, dismay, having to give them everything.
What we let go of is very subjective and sometimes deeply personal. It takes awareness of the idea of letting go, a knowledge of child development, and a lot of active listening to yourself and your child.
Whether it’s letting your baby endure more tummy time before intervening, standing back and watching how a conflict unfolds, or letting your child find their way with disappointment, boredom or a new task, letting go has a bit of process to it.
I always knew when it was time to let go of something when one of two things occurred – there was a little voice in my head saying ‘wait, wait’, or, my daughter and I were at great odds all the time.
When she was a wee one having some mat time, I used to move her arms so they’d be by her head instead of out like airplane wings to her side. Then I heard ‘wait, wait’. I had to give her a chance to find her way, which meant sitting on my hands. Literally. I was, well am, the fixer mentioned above. I heard ‘wait, wait’ a lot as the years passed!
The heads up, we’re at odds alert was always telling. All of a sudden she’d be cranky with me and I’d be irritable with her. That was atypical for us. One day it would hit – she’d changed! I therefore needed to change how I was being with her! I needed to let go of my old, no doubt doting way, and find a new way that allowed some new degree of independence. OR maybe I needed to speak up about a behavior of hers that just wasn’t working for me. OR, sometimes I needed to get out of my fear and allow something new to come into her life (this was a biggy when mental health concerns started to emerge and I was petrified of her getting shrunk in an over medicated mental health system. Boy, did I have a lot to learn).
Some Things to Help This Letting-Go Process
So what helped me and others with whom I’ve worked?
- Awareness of the need to let go. Naming it helps tame it!
- Feeling whatever feelings are had about what you’re letting go of – fear, love, sadness. . . cry it out, journal, talk, rant to yourself, get support if it’s huge to you. Listen to yourself!
- Learning whatever you need in order to fill your knowledge gaps.
- Becoming aware of a different way, behavior. Use it. Notice the effect on you and your child.
- Sometimes calling it let-it-be instead of let-it-go helps. Let it be allows for those times when you are dancing with let-it-go yet still guiding, or giving little nudges.
- Some people find ‘let go, let God’, to help. No matter how you conceive of God, it can be helpful to give things over for intervention from a source other than our everyday consciousness.
Parents tend to ‘tough it out’ a lot, not talk about the layers of feelings when things aren’t going well. While that might work sometimes, I think that if we’re more intentional and gentle about it, we’ll be less exhausted (always), more engaged (mostly- sometimes that takes a while), and time and love will be saved.
If you’re struggling to let-go of something, and thereby have ongoing frustration or too many times when there’s distance in your heart and your relationship with your child, you might want to check out OMG Parenting’s e-class on parenting vows. You’ll get insight on how to empower yourself as you explore this rather surprising barrier to letting go, letting be.
Letting go, like so many aspects of parenting, is a concept for which there is no formula. It’s a process of discovery about limits and control. Our own history imbues this process. It’s something with which we experiment. And it’s definitely good to bring it out and chat it up, because you can’t be a parent and not experience times when it’s necessary to let it go, to let it be.
Take care now, Natasha