Dear Caring Parent,

Letting go – for parents, it’s a constant dance. We attach then we let go. It’s not that we suddenly ‘let go’ when our children finish school, get married or begin their career. Instead, parents experience many phases of letting go. . 

Letting Go Starts At Pregnancy

It starts with letting go of the life we knew before pregnancy or adoption. Men and women feel it! We prepare and then make the huge adjustment to having a new being in the house. It takes us by surprise. We might even struggle with it!  

I think of the mom who learned how to nurture her baby with wonderful attunement. But when she tried to connect with her toddler from the same internal heart space, their reaction was like a slap in the face. She could soothe her crying baby by picking her up. The same strategy seemed to anger her toddler-in-tantrum. The mom had to let go of those easier-to-soothe times and the warm feel of it. Once she learned more about toddler development, she could find new ways to nurture, to attune.  

It’s hard to let go when we LIKE how we are with our child but circumstances seem to be asking us to change, to find another way. Another mom comes to mind. She was sick of her 7th grade child forgetting his homework. He didn’t have ADD or ADHD so the problem wasn’t that he was exceptionally distracted. She wanted to be supportive, but also wanted his ‘bring my homework’ texts to stop. Was it really ok to just let him experience the consequence of his forgetfulness, to let go of taking care of him in this way? 

What Makes it Hard for Parents to Let Go?

Letting go can be difficult. It’s especially hard for a parent who:

  • is a ‘fixer’, a super problem solver,
  • is tied to a certain outcome,
  • likes structured, planned days, 
  • doesn’t want to disappoint, or be disliked when setting a limit, 
  • doesn’t like conflict.

Recognize yourself? And these are just the everyday scenarios that most parents go through. Some parents must also let go of their dreams for their child when a diagnosis, accident, or life direction changes their trajectory. 

But, as parents, let go we must! If we don’t we risk being worn down, getting manipulated, delaying the development of independence, losing respect, or staying 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. 

Parent’s Let Go From Three Pockets

I have found that there are different pockets, or categories, from which we parents let go of something we want to change: 

  1.  child’s life – like being late all the time, not caring or caring too much about how they dress, or putting off homework. 
  2.  me and my child – something between you and your child like being in conflict, rocking them to sleep, helping with their homework. 
  3.  me, mine, my  – your behavior towards your child like impatience, nagging, dismay, or resentment.

What we let go of is very subjective and sometimes deeply personal.  It takes being aware of the need to let go, understanding your child’s developmental stage, and actively  listening to yourself and your child.   

I always knew when it was time to let go of something when one of two things occurred – I’d hear a little voice in my head saying ‘wait, wait’, or, we were frequently at great odds.

When she was a wee one lying on a mat, I used to move her arms so they’d be by her head instead of out like airplane wings. Then I heard ‘wait, wait’. I had to give her a chance to do it herself, 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. 

I also had many ‘heads up, we’re at odds’ moments. All of a sudden she’d be cranky with me and I’d be irritable with her. That was atypical for us. When it did happen, I’d eventually realize that she’d changed!  The ‘heads up’ meant ‘change my behavior’, it’s time to allow her some new degree of independence. Or it might mean it’s time to speak up about a behavior of hers that just wasn’t working for me, or, to get past my fear and allow something new into her life. The latter was a biggy when mental health concerns started to emerge and I was petrified of her getting shrunk in a medication-focused mental health system. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. 

Five Steps to Help Parents With Letting Go

So what has helped me and others with whom I worked?

  •  Being aware of the need to let go. Naming it helps tame it!
  •  Expressing feelings about what you’re letting go of – fear, love, sadness. Cry, write, talk, rant to yourself, and get support.
  •  Acknowledging your knowledge gaps. Fill them.
  •  Responding in a different way. Modify your behavior. Notice the effect on you and your child. 
  •  Calling it ”let it be” instead of ”let it go”. This distinction can help when you are guiding, yet standing back. 

Parents tend to ‘tough it out’ a lot, not wanting to 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).

Letting Go is a Process

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, imbued with our own history. We move into it and pull back from it.

Bring it out. Chat it up. Parenting presents many times when it’s necessary to let it go, to let it be. You are not alone.

Take care now, Natasha