As I go through the days with my kids and talk to my friends, themes seem to surface. I have noticed the topic of letting go keeps coming up. None of my degrees, books, courses, podcasts or continuing education classes have taught me about letting go. I’m sure there are a ton of books on the topic. In fact, the book Happy Camper did help me learn more about this topic. It’s one of those things that I definitely could have studied earlier. I am figuring things out as I go and would love to share with you some of the things I have observed and learned along the way as I learn to let go.
Let’s take a little trip back to dropping Max (my first child) off at three year old preschool. I remember my friends telling me to send him when he was two and I looked at them like they had three heads. I was not sending my two year old to preschool. I am not knocking anyone who does. It just didn’t work for me. It was hard enough to leave him when he was three. He would cry and not want to go, and I put on my terrible acting hat and took him. It seemed to be much easier for Max to leave dad, so Seth quickly learned that to save my sanity he needed to start taking Max to preschool. My kids know how to play me like a fiddle and dad doesn’t mess around.
Taking Max to preschool was my first step in letting go. Leaving him with my parents was always easy for me. He was close to them and usually didn’t mind when I would leave. Ella was a different story. Ella was my Joey (baby kangaroo) who I carried in a pouch everywhere I went. She wanted to be on me all day long. If I left her with my parents she would cry and cry. She is 12 years old now. When I was in the car with my daughters Ella and Lillie the other day, Ella was telling Lillie that their theater has a travel group. Ella said that she couldn’t wait to audition for that group in high school. She said she would be ready to travel on her own without me. I was surprised by my reaction. I smiled and realized that my girl was growing up. For her to say that she can travel without me says so much. She is learning to be more capable and independent every day. I didn’t feel the urge to say, “Well maybe I can come.” I told Ella, “I’m sure you will be able to travel without me,” and meant every word of it. I was growing up too. I was growing up as a parent and I was learning to let go. The little preemie who wouldn’t let me put her down was growing her wings. I was doing my job. I was raising her to be confident and secure. We want our babies to fly without us. I know that’s hard to grasp but when they feel they can do it then that means that we are doing a good job.
Every step Max takes teaches me more and more how to let go more. He started us off at preschool. Then he went to elementary school. I couldn’t imagine how he was going to do all day five days a week without me but all three of my kids ran to kindergarten and loved it. I had a harder time adjusting then they did. My babies were growing up quickly.
Max is going to be finishing middle school next month. I feel like it was yesterday when he started middle school. Every year seems to go faster. I can’t even imagine how fast high school is going to go. How do I have a child old enough to go to high school? Didn’t I just give birth to him? I can picture the first time I saw Max and got to hold him. When I look at him sometimes I don’t recognize him. When he was talking the other day, I had to turn around because I didn’t recognize his voice. I swear it got deeper again. I haven’t fully grasped how old Max looks. He doesn’t look like a boy anymore. He looks like a young man.
Seth and I were discussing soccer tournaments the other day. He was going over a few dates with me. I told Seth that I probably wasn’t going to go to all the tournaments. I have two daughters, two cats and a dog who would prefer for me to stay home with them. I will definitely go to his tournaments. I just won’t go to all of them. That was a big step for me to say that. I can’t be at everything, and Max and Seth will be okay without me. I don’t want to drag our daughters to every soccer tournament. They have their own stuff going on too.
I can feel myself starting to let go. It’s almost a natural process, if you let it happen. I used to walk Lillie down to her friend’s house. Now I watch her go. I see how she crosses the street responsibly and goes down there. I may be slower than some people, or faster than others, but I am at least going at some sort of speed towards letting go.
I listen to my friends worry about their kids. The kids that we have been raising for many years. I have had over 14 years with Max. I am teaching him a lot every day. I have to start to trust that I am teaching him well. Can he make smart decisions? We have to start letting them do things without us. I find myself dropping him off. I’m the taxi service. In fact, in a couple years he won’t even need me to do that. I am going to be teaching him how to drive and then he can take the car. He told me yesterday that he can’t wait until he can go to Wegmans by himself. He is going to walk the aisles and have the best time picking food. He is going to learn how to use a credit card. There is still so much to teach him. Those of you teaching your kids how to cook and do laundry are way ahead of me. I want him to have a lot of life skills before he flies the coop and is on his own. I can’t even believe I just typed that last sentence. I have come so far. Years ago, I would have cried talking about Max leaving him. I am growing up more with him as he grows up.
We have to trust our kids and we have to let them fall. I realize that my kids are going to make mistakes. It is not my job to prevent mistakes from happening. I want you to think about mistakes that you have made in your life. My parents weren’t close by. They didn’t stop me. I needed to learn from my mistakes. They were some of my greatest lessons and they made me who I am today. We want them to fail and make mistakes. We want them to learn to get through it and get stronger. I am thinking about all the soccer games Max and his team have lost. Winning is great and it teaches him to work hard and get good results. I almost feel like losing soccer games teaches him more. It makes him stronger and more resilient and makes him work even harder. One day he will look back at his losses and realize what it taught him.
I need to start practicing letting go more and more. I need to see how they do. I need to test the waters. See that it will be okay. I need to prep them for circumstances. I have talked to Max about drugs, alcohol, driving and sex. We have so many more conversations to have. I told him the most important word he can learn is no. We don’t want our kids to want to fit in and do something they will regret. We don’t want them to feel pressured into something. Start small and let them show you that you can trust them. Keep building on this and trust yourself that you are raising a good kid. If they show you that you need to pull in the reigns, then you know to do that.
Start to help your child problem solve. I am a solver and a doer. If they are struggling with something I want to fix it. I also want them to learn that they can do it. I want them to believe in themselves and build confidence. They aren’t going to build confidence if I do everything. If they come to you with a problem, ask them how they think they can solve it. If they don’t know how teach them problem solving steps. Help them identify what the problem is and help them brainstorm solutions. Maybe you give them an idea and ask them for more ideas. Then help them learn to pick what they think is the best solution. We want to teach our children life skills. Andy Andrews told me that we aren’t trying to raise good kids. We are trying to raise successful adults. That has changed my parenting a lot. What are our long term goals for our kids and how do we plan to help them achieve those goals?
Ask yourself if you are fulfilling your child’s needs or yours. I see that Max doesn’t need me at every soccer game. I see that Ella doesn’t want me to tie her shoe even if she’s rushing. I see that Lillie wants to do as much as she possibly can by herself. That used to upset me and now I see the strength in that. Lillie wanting to be independent isn’t a bad thing. It may slow me down, but I am learning to allot more time for her to be able to do things herself.
I promise you that your child still needs you. I promise that they always will need you. I’m turning 45 next month and I still need my mom forever and always. I still call her with questions. I still need mom hugs. There is no love like yours and you can never be replaced. It’s okay to start to let go. They will always love and need you.
Letting go summary:
- Read your children’s cues. Ask yourself if you are fulfilling their need or yours?
- Start practicing letting go and see how they do.
- Remember that you have taught your child a lot! Start to trust them. If they prove they can’t be trusted, then pull back a little and explain how they can earn more trust.
- Have important conversations with them about alcohol, drugs, driving, sex, etc. Discuss how to avoid peer pressure. Role play with them.
- Remember that the goal is to raise a successful adult. They need to learn life skills and build confidence in themselves. Teach them how to problem solve instead of doing it for them. Teach them coping skills. Teach them household skills. Teach them how to use a credit card before you send them off to college.
- Build your days with stuff for you. Date nights with your husband, friend time, alone time, new hobbies and exercise are all stuff that have probably been neglected that you will see that you start to have more time for. I know it’s also sad. You can still spend time with your children.
- Let your children make mistakes. This is their greatest teacher.
- Give yourself praise as you start to let go and see your child being successful. They are confident and capable because of you. You are doing your job. Good job mama.
I hope that this was helpful to you as we continue to learn to let go. I know it isn’t easy. I go through phases where it makes me sad as they grow up and phases where I feel so proud of the people that my kids are. I hope you will continue to grow with your child.
Laughing, Learning, Loving,
Rebecca Greene, LCSW-R
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