A few weeks ago, I wrote about the subject of “letting go” in my column for The Forum. I’d had what seemed a rather profound (to me) experience involving a lesson in letting go. Writing about it was my way of learning more about myself, as well as lending a bit of insight to those who are not as far along in the parenting journey, and a connection to those who are either at a similar place or even further ahead and looking back now in remembrance.
Well, as these things often go, the column turned out to be fairly prophetic for me. Late last week, my in-laws called to say they were aching for a few kids and could they take a few of ours off our hands? It didn’t take too long for me in my suddenly-summer-weary state to say, “How early can you come?” “Tomorrow,” was the answer. It took a bit of rearranging, but it came to pass, and since last Friday I have had at least two, sometimes as many as three or four, fewer kids hanging about. And yes, it’s made a tremendous difference. My stress level has dropped about three notches since then. I’ve gotten a chance to reconnect with my 6-year-old, in particular, whose last four years of existence have been all about stepping aside for his more insistent little brother. My daughters have been arguing much less in the absence of the prickly energy of their oldest and youngest brothers whirling about. There are many pluses. But no matter what, as I’ve experienced before and will again, there’s always an emptiness that hovers annoyingly when one member of the family leaves for a while. Take out two of them and the hole is that much deeper.
I’ll admit, as light as I feel this week, I miss the humor of my oldest that peppers our lives. And a part of my heart feels ruptured from being away from my youngest. I have never been without him for this duration while in my home, and as feisty as he tends to be, I miss the way he talks and the things he says that bring spontaneous light to my days. Life is nice right now and I want to hang on to the blessing of this, but there’s that nagging feeling that something is missing. And, of course, it is. They are.
Today, I lost another one for a while. She went off to camp for the first time. More relief — one less body to tune into. Even less sibling rivalry. Less food to prepare. And to go along with all that, more emptiness, as well.
But I’m learning. Each time one of them floats away, I’m re-learning the lesson. Maybe by the time they leave for college, I’ll have it down. But probably not. I suspect that letting go is the hardest lesson we’re expected to learn on this earth. I suspect none of us will ever really learn it to perfection. And I know it’s a lesson we have to learn again and again and again.
That said, I know enough about it now to offer a few tips to those who will soon face their own letting-go moments with their children:
1) Be mindful of the fact that we are here to guide our children, not possess them. They are not “ours” to begin with. If we remember that, it’s easier to let go when the time comes.
2) Letting go is a crucial step toward their ability to grow in confidence, and gain necessary skills that will help them thrive in the world. We are doing our children a favor each time we allow them, within reason and at appropriate ages, to step out into the world without us.
3) Making a mental tally of what you can and can’t control about any given letting-go situation helps you move through it easier.
4) For example (see #3), I knew that I could not be at camp with my daughter to help her through any uncomfortable situations that might occur. But last night, I sneaked into bed with her, wrapped my arms around her, and talked to her. The talk turned into a prayer to remind her that even though I wouldn’t be there, God would be — at camp, and anywhere else she will go without me in this world. I told her she might feel lonely at times. I reminded her, also, what a privilege it is to go to camp, and how fortunate she is to have a friend to share it. I reminded her how much I love her, and how fun camp was for me as a child, even if I was a little nervous the first day. We can’t control everything, but there are some things we can do to make our kids’ experiences away from us less worrisome. Okay, and, yes, to help us as well.
5) And on that note, accept your own feelings that come with letting go. It’s okay to feel conflicted. When you feel that feeling, welcome it as part of the process.
6) Then, let go anyway, and know that in doing so, you’re doing your job.
7) Finally, once the vehicle containing your child is no longer visible, get on with your life. Stay busy. Do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. Control what you can, and leave the rest to the God who loves your child even more than you do.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a early-morning call from your daughter or son telling you of all the wonderful things they’re experiencing; things they might not have done if you’d been together. Or, you might receive an email from your mother-in-law with a photo that will assure you: all is as it should be.
Does this look like a child who is suffering over the absence of his Mom? Yeah, I thought so. It’s all as it should be, complete with Grandpa’s pancakes and love.