From the moment of giving birth and cutting the umbilical cord, parenting is a lifetime of letting go. While letting go is liberating it can also be scary and painful.
- We have to trust that our children will be capable.
Our children need us to believe in their competence.
- We have to trust that they will survive their mistakes.
Our children need the experience of learning from their mistakes.
* We have to trust ourselves to know when to loose the reins and when to rein them in.
That is why we parents need to surround ourselves with other parents, and parents of parents, and people without children, to help us to let go, whilst staying connected, and let go, and let go some more.
We are letting our children go from the time we entrust our child into the care of someone else, to letting them choose their wardrobe, to their first sleepover, taking the bus without us, leaving them home alone, their first date, to moving out to accommodation of their own. And even then, the relinquishing continues on …
Letting go is not always easy. Letting go and staying connected is harder still. It is imperative for our children’s healthy development that we allow them to make their own choices and move steadily out into the world. It is also important that we provide our children with a sense of being held and supported in this process. As parents we search for the right balance between ensuring safety and allowing freedom.
We struggle in different ways with letting go:
I observe some parent’s struggle with their child growing up resulting in their clinging on, often so fearful of ‘what might happen’ that they restrict their children and deny them much of life’s richness. Sadly, this can teach a child that the world is a dangerous place and that they are not capable of fending for themselves.
When a parent is very risk-averse and constantly steps in to protect their child, it becomes hard for that child to be able to assess danger for themselves. Research has shown that paradoxically these children can be at greater risk of harm in the long term, as they are less experienced at making decisions and taking responsibility for themselves.
I also see parents who deal with the difficulty of their child’s increased need for autonomy by flip-flopping between holding on and letting go completely. Relinquishing the parenting role is a way of avoiding the stress of constantly needing to make new age-appropriate boundaries with a child who is rightly pushing at those boundaries. Opting out and turning a blind eye can be some parent’s way of dealing with their anxiety at each new independent step their child takes. Some parents oscillate between saying no to everything and saying yes to everything and this can be confusing.
Then I see parents who do that delicate dance of allowing, but still worrying, counselling against threats, and then releasing their offspring to make their own way. These parents often draw on the support of other adults – parenting is more easily done in company.
It is natural to worry. It is healthy to be aware of the threats, especially in the early years when our youngsters are not conscious of risks, or in the teen years when they believe themselves to be immune to danger. Better than filling our children with our worries though, is to share them with other adults who can help us to strike a good parenting balance between guiding our children, restraining our children, and letting them go.
Sometimes the hardest work of parenting is to get our ‘selves’ out of the way. Adults who were over-cosseted as a child will often have a tendency either to repeat this with their own children, or to react against it and be too liberal.
If as a child we were bullied, or as a teen we went off the rails, it is hard not to fear that our own child will go the same way. But our children need us to see them, not through the spectacles of who we were, but to see them as they are. When you consider the character of your child you can assess how much holding, and how much encouraging, and how much freedom would best serve that individual child’s development toward become a self-assured, competent, and free-flying adult.
Letting-go is integral to parenting – but it is not without it’s griefs and is best done with in the company of others. What are your sources of parenting support?