When my oldest asked if she could shave her legs for the first time, I had an out-of-body experience. There she was, with a razor in her hand (a pink Daisy, I think), a serious all-grown-up look on her face and a voice that demanded I pay attention. What I saw through my mothering eyes, was my first child, still an infant, quietly nursing in the privacy of her softly lit bedroom. I was having a flashback. I was caught off guard. It was the first time I experienced what so many parents had shared with me during my early career as a parent educator – the reality that their children were growing up and they, the parents, were struggling with the idea of “letting go”.
I am forever talking to parents about “letting go” and recognizing that the moment our babies land in our homes, they begin the slow journey of moving out. Yes, it does start the minute they arrive. I know this and here I was getting ready to yank my own kid back into infancy.
It’s been years since I thought of that incident. I remembered it because Jennifer (my business partner) was talking with me about a similar experience with her oldest daughter. We began a poignant conversation about the phenomenon of letting go and growing closer all at the same time. It’s the “this and that” factor again. As I was reminiscing, she was in “real time.” I could hear the delight and wonder in her voice as she relayed the story. So similar to mine that it was uncanny. I watched her face deepen with love and admiration for her daughter. And then she said, very simply, something I have been trying to communicate to parents for years…
“Ya know, the thing is, if you can embrace the “letting go” process with your kids, they don’t seem all that interested in running away from you. In fact, I think they tend to move closer and stay longer.”
So, here is my short list, for letting go and hanging on without ever losing your balance.
- Stop pretending that your kids aren’t going to leave. You know they are AND they are supposed to. It is complete indulgence when parents act as if they won’t be able to handle the eventual departure of their children. I sometimes wonder if parents who hang on tightly think it’s an indicator of how much they love their kids. We all love our kids. Clinging is a lousy litmus test for love.
- Think about the message you are sending your kids when you talk about how hard it is on YOU that they are growing up. Here the kids are, doing their best to move forward in their lives and they have some clingy parent hanging on to their pant cuffs screaming – “Don’t leave me.” “Don’t grow up.” “I can’t handle it.” You really think your kids think this is a sign of love? I doubt it. It serves as an indicator to the kids that your life is too focused on their life, hence the “get a life” campaign.
- Remember that growing up, doesn’t mean growing away. Children leave our homes, they don’t leave our lives. If we give them the space they so desperately require to grow into the people they are meant to be, they will choose to stay close to the people that helped them get there.
All parents will experience a multitude of milestones with their children. At some point, every kid is going to pick up a razor, male or female, and you will decide at that moment whether you will be part of this incredible stage in your child’s life, or whether you will live in the past.
11 years ago, I sat on the edge of the tub with Hannah. I filled the tub with warm water and we both dangled our feet just below the surface. We lathered up our legs with shaving cream. I pointed out all the tricky spots on a woman’s legs – around the ankle, the shin line and the knee cap. I explained that using a sharp razor was a sure way to limit the nicks and cuts so dispose after of old razors after 2 or 3 shavings. We practiced taking long strokes up our legs. She was nervous and tentative and I felt needed and loved and connected to this amazing young woman. The experience lasted about 30 minutes. The water was temped by the time we finished. I gave her a gift of Jafra Almond Lotion – a kind of coming of age gift, to make her legs shiny, smooth and soft. She was radiant.
Throughout the day I caught her running her hands up and down her legs, feeling not so much for the new smooth feeling of her legs, but for what they smoothness represented. I remember doing the same thing at her age. Stroking my first real step into adulthood.
I have thousands of these memories with my kids and because I was willing to let go of their childhood, I was able to step into the moments with them and become a part of their experience. Letting go allows our children to stay close. Trust me.
Is letting go easy? Not always, but I understood that my kids were leaving the moment they entered the world, so I was prepared AND I decided to relish their walk towards adulthood instead of fight it. That made all the difference in the world.
The next time your child takes a step toward the door, put your fear aside and make the decision to walk with them. Imagine the conversations you and your children will share when they realize you have no intention of disrupting their walk towards independence and adulthood. Yummy is the only word I can use to describe it.
Next year at this time, your, my children, our children will have another year of new experiences under their belts. Will you be there with them, or will you be sitting on the sidelines still fighting the inevitable “letting go”?
A note from Jennifer: “I am so grateful for Parenting on Track™. Everything I have learned over the past 9 years has brought me to this moment. Letting go and watching my children grow into young adults is magnificent. Its difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced this – but as Vicki likes to say – “It’s DELICIOUS.” And it’s not only the relationship I have with the kids that helps me embrace letting go, its my confidence in them – as people – as thinking individuals who are navigating their lives the best they can and I so appreciate the invitation from them to be a part of the journey.”