Moments of Letting Go
by Kim Atkinson
My nose is pressed up to the glass and I don’t want to leave. For reasons unfathomable to me, the kindergarten teacher doesn’t seem to want to let me stay. My son is happily doing kindergarten stuff and doesn’t even notice I am staring at him. If I stay any longer it will be obvious I am a neurotic mom with no life. I leave.
Life as a parent is filled with such moments of letting go. Leaving my son at kindergarten was only one of many times I fumbled around when he was obviously fine. Leaving him with a caregiver for the first time, watching my boys ride bikes to the corner store alone, taking the bus for the first time, every one of these was difficult for me. Were the kids ready? Was it safe? Each event involved a lot of conversation with my husband, lots of self doubt, rationalization, guilt, and dramatic imagining of all that could go wrong. The kids were always ready sooner than I was. And then one day, the ultimate in letting go. Dave and I are standing at the top of the driveway waving as our son drives away in a loaded truck: he is leaving home.
I see now that my entire parenting career has been made up of those moments. Letting go has been the theme of the whole darned thing! My friend Cindy uses the analogy of a leash: you have to keep letting out more length of leash and sometimes you have to yank it back in. The tricky part is knowing how much to let out and when to yank it back. When is it OK to go on a sleepover? What about playing in the neighbourhood park with a friend? Walking alone to school? The leash inches out a little more every time.
Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold On To Your Kids, makes the case that we should keep our kids closer for longer. He asserts that kids who don’t have strong adult attachment in their lives look to their peers for direction. They model their values, identity and behaviour on friends, rather than parents. This skews a kid’s sense of right and wrong, fosters aggression and early sexualized behaviour. Ah ha! My kids don’t really need friends! I can cocoon them forever.
Like everything about parenting, there is no such simple answer. Much depends on our values, our gut instincts and on the individual child. But there is no doubt that building and working to maintain strong bonds with kids is crucial. Perhaps it’s less about the first sleepover and more about what goes on the nights the kids are sleeping at home. Maybe it’s less about the first bike ride to the corner store and more about the conversations that preceded that ride.
So there we are on the driveway, the truck is gone. We have taken the requisite pictures, hugged, not cried. It’s been three, yes, three days since my son graduated from high school. He has quit his job. He is moving into a house with kids we don’t know well, the number of which is ever changing; five, maybe, but then there’s the guy sleeping in a tent in the backyard, and the one in the kitchen on a couch. Everything is going great, he tells us. “The cat pees in my bed sometimes and we have to tape our cereal boxes shut so one guy doesn’t steal it. And hey! Our rent just went down because we have a new roommate— he sleeps on top of some kitchen cupboards. Oh, by the way, I’m vegan.”
The leash has been severed. We are left gasping.
For a week Dave and I mope around. Rationalization (He’ll be fine, he’s smart), guilt (Why didn’t we do it all differently?), and dramatic imaginings of what could go wrong (He’ll live on chips and beer) plague us. We ask him over for dinner, casually so as not to appear needy. “Sure,” he says, “can I bring my housemates?” And they all come. He asks where to buy cheap beans and tahini and phones us for recipes. He gets a job, a bike and a helmet. He asks the food stealer and the cupboard sleeper to leave. He wants frying pans and a food processor for his birthday. There are no parties with chips and beer, only board games and tea.
The moments of letting go were all hard, but ultimately felt right. And so it is with this one. The leash is severed, but a connection remains. Come to think of it, the relationship didn’t depend on the leash at all. So like the kindergarten moment with my nose pressed to the glass, I have recognized that he is happily doing what he should be doing, getting along just fine without me.
Kim Atkinson is the mother of two boys and an Early Childhood Educator at Lansdowne Co-op Preschool.