"All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on." Havelock Ellis
As parents of middle and high school children, we frequently hear about letting go. As children get older, we know they need more independence and more opportunities to make their own decisions. These opportunities present themselves at different times for different families - summer camp, school dances, first dates. Some parents embrace the opportunities. Some parents fear them. We know in our heads that our children must be faced with opportunities to learn independence, but sometimes our hearts don't listen.
When my oldest daughter was preparing to leave for college, well-meaning friends shared their words of wisdom about the "launching" process. I often heard the analogy of the mother bird nudging her fledglings out of the nest. To be honest, I didn't like the idea of "launching" her. Rockets launch. Rockets are loaded explosives, they are shot into the orbit thousands of miles away. They blast off - fast and loud. They disappear from sight quickly and then silently orbit, often unnoticed. I did not want to think of my daughter like this. Loudly and abrubtly leaving our home and then silently orbiting somewhere "out there". Other friends, shared their analogies of mother birds, teaching their fledgelings to leave the nest. They forgot to tell me about the soiling that happens when the baby bird is too large for the small confines of home, where she needs space to spread her wings and hence "spoils the nest". There were times when I did feel like the mother bird. As the start date of college approached, our nest started to feel very small. Some days, I felt like tossing her out and watching her take that first frantic flight. I knew she could fly, I knew she was ready, but I didn't know how strong her wings were or how long she could fly on those first solo flights. There were other days when I wanted to wrap my arms around her and never let her go. Still today with nearly all of my children completely out of the nest, there are times where I yearn for an opportunity to bring them back and embrace them.
When it came time to push my children out of my nest, I faced a difficulty I had not faced since the first days of preschool, where my children stood at the door crying for me to stay. I remember each drop off day as vividly as I remember their births. The moments are written in my memory forever. The one daughter, sitting on a bench watching us walk away, trepidation and uneasiness on her face. The son, at school a week early for marching band in a near empty dorm, trying to seem competent and ready, and the last who couldn't wait for us to get out. Who walked us to the car, hugged us and then turned around and left us without nary a look back. Each time, I hidmy tears behind sunglasses. My heart felt like it was breaking. I knew in my head "this is what parents do" but my heart wasn't convinced.
This is our job as parents. We bring these little people into the world, fill them up with our love (and life lessons) and then let them go.
Madeline Levine writes in The Price of Privilege:
Letting go is necessary; it is sometimes extremely difficult....by forcing myself
to tolerate anxiety and separation, we both get the opportunity to discover and
develop new skills for dealing effectively with challenge....We both feel more in
control of our respective worlds.
According to Dr. Levine, letting go serves a double purpose: it teaches our children how to self-manage and teaches the parent how to manage anxiety and separation (pg. 74-75 Price of Privilege). To be complete and full parents, We need to let go. We need to see our children resolve a problem, manage a disappointment, or transition to college. In the same way our children benefit from the experience, we feel a sense of accomplishment in knowing that we have prepared them for their next adventure. I've never really thought about the idea that letting go is good for me, too. The letting go teaches us both.
I liked reading what Dr. Levine shared about the necessity and importance of the discomfort (and sometimes fear) that comes with letting go. When have you let go and how did you learn from it?
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