I’m not usually a fan of unsolicited advice (who is?!), so when my mum started throwing some around shortly after my son was born, I decided to take it all with a pinch of salt.
I wasn’t interested in “making a rod for my own back” (whatever that meant), nor was I able to decipher what to do with the fact that “babies love routine.” However, between all the well-meaning but ultimately useless pearls of wisdom being bandied about, there was one phrase that kept popping up – “you have to know when to let go.”
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You have to know when to let go
It struck me as an odd thing to say to a new mum. After all, all the “letting go” happens during your child’s teenage years, shortly before waving them off into adulthood, right? And yet, there have been many, many occasions during the few short years since my son’s birth where my mum has sagely shaken her head before telling me, “You have to know when to let go.”
I finally understand
While my response to this has always been the kind of epic eye roll only someone suffering from severe sleep deprivation can muster, now that my son is three and starting to explore life outside of his bubble with me, I think I finally understand what my mum has been trying to tell me. “Letting go” isn’t something that we do in one go on the eve of their 18th birthday, like ripping off a band-aid. Raising happy, independent adults involves a series of little “letting go’s” throughout our kid’s childhood.
From the first night he slept in his own bedroom, stopping breastfeeding, ditching the dummy and drinking out of a “big boy” cup, to leaving him with a relative for the first time. Even when he recently asked to play in his little neighbour’s garden while I, naturally, hovered in the background like the true helicopter parent I pretend not to be – my son’s short life has already been punctuated with a series of “letting go’s”, and it’s taken me until now to realise.
“Letting go” flies in the face of our natural instinct to keep our children as babies for as long as possible, where we can keep them close and protected from the world. Whether it’s starting school, no longer needing to hold your hand as you walk alongside them or reading themselves a bedtime story for the first time, every milestone our children make involves us letting them go a little bit more – and our hearts breaking a little bit further.
We still have an important job
Sometimes it feels like I’m already losing my son, that he’s already started to drift away from me. But as he begins to explore more and more of the world around him as a naturally inquisitive pre-schooler, I understand now that my job isn’t to try and keep him tethered to my side for as long as possible. I need to let him move on to the next stage of his life and when he’s ready, to be there in the background, smiling, cheering him on and giving off an air of confidence I might not always feel.
But, for now, I’ll hold onto him tight. I’ll drink in his baby smell and smother him in kisses – just because I still can. I’ll tickle his little tummy until he dissolves into giggles. I’ll hold his hand as we walk side by side and then, when he’s ready, I’ll let him go.