On Letting Go

The Bear getting ready for playschool. She often walks a block or two by herself before Banana and I leave the house and catch up. I let her go.

Over the Christmas season I was at a party where a bunch of parents (who I had never met before) were chatting about this and that. My friend – the host of the party – introduced me in the context of the conversation: “This is Laura and she doesn’t have any problem letting go of her kids!” I laughed and the other parents just sort of laughed. That moment has stuck and I can’t seem to shake it.

I am, indeed, a parent who has NO problem letting go of her children. When parents tell me they wish their child attended half-day kindergarten rather than full day kindergarten, I’m puzzled. When the Bear is invited to ‘drop-off ‘birthday parties and there is no obligation for MJ or I to stay, I generally respond with glee. When the neighbour tells me that she’s sad her teenager got her driver’s license and is now utilizing her newfound freedom, I respond with surprise. When I hear about older parents feeling anxious about their children traveling by themselves, I’m usually thinking, “Aren’t they, like, 25?” When I think about both my girls being in full time school, I nearly faint with anticipation.

I say all this with trepidation. Because I know lots of parents will view this confession with confusion – aren’t we supposed to love our children so much that we need to be so attached that we have a hard time letting them go? I’m guessing that I look at these parents with the same amount of confusion and think, ‘Do you seriously, and I mean seriously, want to live and breathe your children every minute for the rest of your life?’

Sometimes I wonder if it is simply a case of individuality. But most of the time I revert to my social constructionist side – what social cues have made western parents feel like they can’t let go of their kids? Is it a belief in the myth of the ‘good mother’ who sacrifices everything and devotes her life unselfishly to her child for fear of being perceived as a ‘bad mother’ (or parent)? Is it a fear of all the social ills that we observe on the evening news? Is it worry that less time with the children will make them drift away from us? Or does it simply come down to sentimentality? Or even a bigger question, do we hold them close in order to influence them as much as possible due to an unacknowledged fear of own mortality? Because we will eventually die and our children are often the legacy we are the most invested in.

Whatever it is, I do believe that it doesn’t benefit the children. The more tightly we pull them to us, the more difficult it will be for them to be courageous on their own terms.

But just as importantly – what about the parents?

Slow parenting isn’t just about the benefits to the children; it’s also about the parents. It’s about freeing parents from the guilt that strangles them when they think of all the things they could be doing ‘better.’ It’s about freeing parents from the fear that their children will somehow become victims of the world rather than defenders of it. It’s about freeing parents from the worry that less time with their children might contribute to some sort of abandonment of them in old age. It’s about freeing parents from the notion that the role of parent should be their leading role. It’s about freeing parents from the belief that their only mark in the world will be seen through the accomplishments of their children.

It’s about giving parents permission to have an identity separate from their parent role. Our children should not define us, nor us them. We need to be loving and supportive of our children but not EVER at the expense of time to reflect on who we are and what we are still to become. Our lives shouldn’t end when we have children, but in order to move forward, we must first learn the importance of letting go.

Call me cold. Call me a liar. Call me reckless or selfish. But I do love my children very much. At the same time, I am very secure in the knowledge that I am absolutely fine with letting them go.

14 Responses to “On Letting Go”

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  3. 3 Big Mama February 21, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Hi all, I remember letting my youngest, who had won a Girl Guide trip to Ottawa, actually leave for 2 weeks, and a lot of mothers were shocked that I “let’ her go. Not much safer than a Girl Guide camp in Ottawa, and what if I had not let her go and instilled a fear of being away and a fear of new places?
    As a Grandmother I would like to assure parents that generally one never really loses ones offspring, and the plus is grandkids. But one must persevere with one’s own identity, by continuing some brain food, be it newspapers, quilting, fabulous cooking, or if possible a “date” at home when the kids are snoring, with one’s significant other. One has to work at this, but it keeps the brain cells from hibernating.
    Big Mama

  4. 4 roma February 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Am guessing homeschooling isn’t on your agenda anytime soon then, Laura? 🙂

    But seriously, it’s been interesting to read the posts above – and although I would love to comment further, as a mum of a 6 week old and a 16 month old, with no time to myself, I am exhausted and can’t string two sentences together. haha. Reassuring to know it does get easier and will be interesting to see how i feel about letting go OR not, when the kids are older.

  5. 5 Jenna February 20, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Have you seen Free Range kids? http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ It sounds like it would match with what you believe.
    My son played in the yard by himself last summer (age 3.5) or with friends. He knows not to leave without me.

  6. 7 Gillian February 16, 2011 at 10:27 am

    This post really struck a chord with me! When my boy was born, I was thrilled to finally have the child that I had always wanted. Imagine my shock, distress, and GUILT a few weeks later when I started grieving the loss of my former life! Although I knew life would change after children, I was really unprepared for how much of my life I would have to stow on the back shelf to hopefully discover again later. As my boy got older and we both started gaining independence and losing interdependance, I would smile every time I realized “hey, I’m alone and doing something for me”! I also cherish more our time together and our evolving relationship, from mom and her “mom, can you do this for me” boy to mom and her “mom, watch what I can do all by myself” boy.
    With the birth of our girl, I’m again realizing that I’ve had to place my own interests back up on the shelf for a while. I’m not sad or scared about it this time though. Unlike the unknown abyss I was headed into with my first baby, I have experience now to tell me that I will find myself again, little by little, with the added bonus of watching my 2 beautiful children find themselves at the same time. 🙂 And, yes, I am already dreaming all the new things I can be in 5 years or so when both are in school!

    • 8 Mama Tortoise February 20, 2011 at 2:52 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Gillian. It’s good to remind new moms that it DOES get easier! Thanks for your story. I felt the same wtih the birth of Banana – I knew that I would get some time back for myself eventually. It’s important to not forget that person that you’ve ‘put on the shelf’. Disengaging from her for a period is okay, but leave it too long and it makes it harder to find her again.

  7. 9 Michelle February 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Call me insecure. As a stay-at-home mom for the last five years, I’ve let the “job” define me and it’s been a constant struggle. Ask me who I am and I’ll tell you that I’m G and R’s mom. My kids have a lot of independence in day-to-day activities…at the playground, in the yard, walking to a friend’s house down the block, etc. But as my children grow up and away (as far away as kindergarten and preschool take them!) I’ve begun to realize that I have to reset my identity, figure out who I am all over again. Holding onto them would allow me to hold on to my identity of the last five years. It’s safe. And unhealthy for all of us. Knowing this, I do my best to let the kids go. Give them the tools and knowledge to experience life, it’s ups and downs, highs and lows. I miss them when we’re not together, but I know that they’re learning about themselves and their interests and abilities. Time for momma (uh, Michelle) to take up a hobby, I suppose! Thanks for giving me pause.

    • 10 Mama Tortoise February 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      Oh, Michelle! You are so not alone. I had a hard time writing today’s post using the word ‘parent’ because I know that there are fathers as well as mothers who read this blog. But I so very badly wanted to address this issue for mothers in particular. For it is really mothers who need to do the constant reinvention of their identities. Fathers have children and go on with their pre-children identity, mothers have children and have to alter their sense of self in a whole new way. If mothers work they are then, ‘working mothers.’ But have you ever heard of a ‘working father’? Anyway, I do believe that the connection between letting go and identity is primarily an issue for mothers because they take on the primary caring role. Children change us. But I think that there is opportunity there – we can carry the burden that we must reinvent ourselves, or we can look at it as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves. There are so many possibilities in what you can become that perhaps wasn’t there before kids.

      • 11 Michelle February 16, 2011 at 6:46 am

        You’re very right. I’m a different person than I was before children and it’s an opportunity to explore the “new” me. Rather than being scared, I’m truly excited about the next stage of my life, when I can explore my own interests.

        The reason that I brought up insecurities is that I think they’re very directly tied to “letting go” of our kids. The thinking is that a well-rounded, happy, healthy child is a reflection of perfect parenting, which is, in turn, a reflection of a perfect person. I can’t imagine anyone feeling this more than the stay-at-home mom, who has sacrificed (or so she may feel) herself for her offshpring. In letting go we can no longer take full credit for our children’s successes and must instead give credit to *gasp* the child. Of course, it’s not true. Knowing this I do my best to use the hands off approach…and yet still puff up like a peacock when G uses his manners and cringe when R makes a nasty face at a store clerk, believing that my children’s actions reflect my parenting abilities.

        The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. And, so, my name is Michelle and I have tied my self-worth to my chidlren’s successes.

        Thanks again for giving me something to think about, Mama T!

  8. 12 Jocelyn February 15, 2011 at 7:12 am

    I had hoped the pendulum would have swung back towards letting our kids go … To the park, to the store, to the neighbors house – all within a few blocks. We can all remember walking to the park without our parents … Back in the good old days. I am going to try hard to give my daughter the same gifts of freedom, exploration, and learning that I received growing up.

    I know that I am in for an uphill battle. I also have a feeling that more new parents our age feel the same way. They just don’t do what their gut tells them for fear of what others are going to say (or for fear that someone will disapprove and call social services because they see ‘unsupervised children playing’). The detractors are so determined to instill fear in other parents that they go out of their way to say on every available occasion … “but if something happens you will never forgive yourself”. My response … If they never get the opportunity to learn and experience on their own, then you will never forgive yourself either.

    I had an amazing childhood of playing exploring and learning. My mom and dad taught me life lessons at home and would then let me go outside to practice them – on my own! After all, practice makes perfect! My greatest gift to my daughter will be giving her the same childhood experiences my parents gave me. Thanks mom and dad for letting me be a kid.

    • 13 Mama Tortoise February 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Jocelyn. It’s always interesting to reflect back on what we did as kids compared to how we are expected to parent today. I think most people perceive past generations as having more freedom but we bow to some sort of other pressures today that didn’t seem to exist back then. But with a little resistance, I think that we can change some of the pressures.

      After playschool, the Bear always races outside to play with the other kids. I’m often a good few steps (or a conversation) after her. But I trust that she’s fine on her own for a minute. She understands not to go on the road or anywhere else without me. But at least once a week I hear someone exclaim, ‘the kids are out here without an adult.’ (because there are other parents who don’t really care either). My resistance is shrugging my shoulders and saying that they are fine. Little battles, right?

  1. 1 Slow Saturdays (late again): Time to let go « Tortoise on the Loose Trackback on February 20, 2011 at 2:48 pm

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