The Hardest Thing For Parents To Let Go

It’s not easy to let go of our children. But, in reality, our children are growing up every moment, every day – and growing towards independence from us, their parents. And that is a good thing.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.” Ann Landers

Letting go is never easy

Sure, there are milestones when we attain a new level of “letting go”- his first day of school, her graduation from university, his enlistment to serve the nation, her wedding day, and so on. But in fact, I think it’s a lesson we learn from the moment we find out we are soon-to-be parents, right up to the day we leave this earth.

We love our children. We would throw ourselves in front of a moving car to save them; we long to protect them from the pains, struggles and failures that are part and parcel of life; we struggle to let them find the answers on their own. We want to protect their innocence, their childlike joy, their unwavering trust in us and other adult figures in their lives. And in the process, we often forget that our children ultimately need to figure all this out for themselves, because we can’t do this protecting forever.

Interestingly, much of this need to hold on to our children stems from our personal fears and insecurities, such as the need to be good at what we do, the need for approval from our peers and loved ones, the need for love and the need for control.

I need to do a good job

We all want to be that mum who never screams at her kids, nurtures their potential, and instills good morals and values in their souls. Our children can become our “key performance indicators” – how well they’re doing or behaving becomes how well we think we are doing.

I need others to think I am doing a good job

All of us, without exception, long for approval, for acceptance, for significance. Our self-esteem is to varying degrees tied to what others think of us, and how we think others perceive us. And so, parenting becomes some form of a play, where we are ‘acting’ the role of a good dad or mum – where we run the risk of having the form but not the depth.

I need my kids to love me

We long for our kids to love us with the same fierce, unquenchable intensity with which we love them. We want them to like us too – we want to be that fun mum who bakes cookies for tea or plays soccer in the muddy garden. Bottom line: We want our kids to love us the most in the whole wide world.

I need to be in control

How can we bear to watch our children fail? Many of us will know that there is no true success without failure, that it’s not always in our children’s best interest to succeed. And yet, we shy away from overly challenging situations where he could face devastating loss or disappointment. We want to protect our children from ever having to feel lousy or defeated. Ultimately, we want to control the outcome of his decisions and actions, and we want it to be good.

So how can we begin on this journey of “letting go”? It is virtually impossible to write a list of “how tos” for letting go. According to physician and author Dr Alex Lickerman, the key to letting go is recognizing that:

  • Our needs are built from our beliefs about what we need to be happy.
  • True happiness cannot be found in holding on to things or people, no matter how much we love them. The happiest person is one who has cultivated an inner restedness and strength that enables him or her to find joy even when that which is most precious is taken away. Paradoxically, this is also the life state from which we can enjoy our relationships the most.

“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”
– Deborah Reber, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

Many of our beliefs about what it takes to be happy are built on what the media portrays, or what people have told us, or even how we grew up. Through life experiences, we learn to see our beliefs for what they are, and to examine their validity and worth.

This is a process, which takes time and effort, and diligence and awareness on our part as well. It’s just as well, then, that the intensity of letting go of our children comes to us in incremental fashion as well. We learn to let go of them as tiny infants first, when we don’t immediately run to their crib when they begin to whimper. As toddlers, we learn to let go of their physical safety as they begin to explore their surroundings and chalk up some bumps and bruises along the way.

Then, school life begins, and we grapple with letting go of our precious child for a few hours in a roomful of other people’s kids. Moving on, academic ups and downs require us to let go of our children to discover for themselves which subjects they enjoy, what they excel in, and how to handle success and failure. When dating begins, that’s a whole other level of letting go, and then there’s marriage to think about.

The process never really ends. But this journey of letting go, of fostering our own internal state of happiness that is independent of our circumstances, is a most rewarding, enriching and valuable one.

By Dorothea Chow