Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Great Parenting Dilemma: Letting Go Is Hard To Do

Perhaps you’ve heard the song, “Breaking up is hard to do.” Well, from a parent’s perspective, I say, “Letting go is hard to do.” I heard someone say several years ago, “Kids aren’t for keeps – you have them, you raise them, then you send them off into the world to find their calling.” What a profound and true statement that is! We don’t get to keep them forever.

This is the time of year when parents and kids alike are gearing up for graduation and all that such a milestone entails. Parenting has innumerable rewards and this has got to be one of them – seeing our children grow up to take the next step towards adulthood.

At the same time, this milestone comes with its drawbacks. You see, it’s a sign that the time to let go is inching closer and closer. By that I mean, as our children grow up and get closer to adulthood, as parents we need to begin the process of letting them become adults in their own right. And that, my friend, has its challenges.

Rodrick's daughter
My daughter is 13 years old. She’s an 8th grader and is truly a joy and a wonder. Next year, it’s high school for her so we should have her at home for another 4 years at least. Sounds cool, right? Well let me tell you – this past weekend, she went to her 8th grade dance. She was dressed to impress with formal attire and looking so much like a young lady. My wife and I beamed with pride as we saw her.

But as we took her to the dance, it dawned on me that the next major milestone is her high school prom – and more likely than not, she’s not going to want us to take her. She’ll likely have a date to come to the house and pick her up. Perish the thought! Then after that it’s graduation and then off to college for her.

Well, you know what? When I dropped her to the dance, she didn’t even want me to get out of the car and walk her to the door like I did when she went to her 6th grade dance. She’s developing her own identity and coming into her own so having her dad walk her to the door just might cramp her style! As I drove away after dropping her off, I found myself fighting back the tears. Not sure exactly why but I guess the significance of the moment got to me – my little baby’s not a little baby anymore.

Today, parents all across the world are experiencing similar emotions. Some might even call my reaction ridiculous because, after all, my daughter will be home for another 4 years. I’ll get to go through the high school years and see her blossom through it all.

But what about those who are seeing their “babies” graduate from high school and off to college or to face life’s other challenges? What about those who are seeing their kids graduate from college and off into the real world, never again to return home – except for brief visits? I can’t imagine that – yet, I know in seemingly no time, I’ll be in the shoes of those dads and moms – proud, yet heartbroken at the thought of seeing their young ones grow up and moving on without them.

If we do our job well, we’ll prepare our children to take their place in the world. That’s the goal of parenting, in my view. There’s a proverb that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go so that when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It’s an honor and a privilege to raise and train children. The responsibility to guide and mold young lives is an awesome one. Parenting is not for the faint of heart – it’s a challenging but rewarding experience.

So when is the right time to let go? When is it ok to detach ourselves enough so that our kids can grow up on their own? The easy answer is to say, “When they move out” – like when they go off to college or start working and get their own place. But it’s not quite that easy.

I recall that as my siblings and I grew up, my parents had to begin letting go of each of us, one by one. When my sister graduated from high school and went off to college, she never returned home to live. She was always away at school – even throughout the summer months. She got her 4 year degree in 3 years and after graduation she moved to another state to pursue her graduate studies and then her life’s dreams.

I know it wasn’t easy for my parents to see their only daughter, who happens to be the oldest, leave the “nest,” never to return other than for visits. But as time has transpired, they’ve accepted the fact that they did their job and therefore they just had to let her be herself. And she’s made them proud. She has a PhD and is a college professor, and an entrepreneur. They prepared her for the world and she’s conquering it day by day.

My 2 brothers and I have also made our own impact on the world. Our parents laid a solid foundation and saw us off to college. And now, we’re each pursuing our life’s calling and I’m sure our parents are proud of our accomplishments as well.

Still, I recall that as I went off to college and then on to the real world, there were times I felt that I wished my parents would just let go completely and let me do what I wanted. I felt that as of age 18, I was an adult who should be allowed to make my decisions and live with the consequences – positive or negative.

Well, the path to life as an independent adult wasn’t all smooth sailing. There were many challenges along the way. And, to be honest, at times I needed to swallow my pride and go back to Dad and Mom for help – financial and otherwise. And being the loving parents that they are, they were right there to help.

The reality is that as parents, we never fully let go. I often say, “Once a parent, always a parent.” It’s the role of a lifetime. It is a delicate balancing act to know how to effectively parent while knowing just how and when to let go.

As far as the timing goes, I think it’s important to know your children and deal with each accordingly. Some kids would simply fall flat on their faces if the letting go occurs too soon. Others’ growth would be stifled if it occurs too late. Much like a mother eagle, we have to teach our young ones how to fly and then know when to let them go to fly on their own. It’s a delicate balancing act but if we’re attentive, we can be successful.

If you’re a parent who is dealing with this issue now, be encouraged. Just know that you’re not alone. You might not feel needed quite as much when your kids grow up. But that’s part of the process. When my daughter didn’t want me to walk her to the door when I took her to the 8th grade dance, it wasn’t the best feeling. But that’s a sign that she’s growing up. It wasn’t too long ago that I dropped her off at the daycare center while she clung to my leg, in tears, not wanting me to leave. So she’s a big girl now – on her way to womanhood. Of that I should be proud. Still, it’s not so easy to deal with.

My encouragement to you is to remain constant in your love for your kids. Keep the lines of communication open and help them to make the transition to adulthood. Recall your own journey and apply the lessons you learned as you deal with your own children. The love of a parent is perpetual and though it may not seem like it, knowing how and when to let go is a part of the process of showing your love for them.

Rodrick and his kids

Kids aren’t for keeps, indeed. But as time goes on, we learn to treasure the time we invest in them. And, if we do our job right, we’ll reap the dividends for a lifetime.

Enjoy your day,

The Upbeat Dad