My Facebook and my email inbox are full of stories of parents sending their kids off to school this week–from kindergarten through college.
Often, it’s with a lot of pride and equal amounts of tears. But there are all sorts of less dramatic and daily ways that we need to let our kids go: by loosening the reins, allowing them to make their own mistakes, and facing the consequences from the world rather than from us.
If we want our kids to soar, sometimes we also have to let them fall. But as a friend just said to me: It’s so damn hard, isn’t it?
Continue on for some suggestions of how to make it easier, or if not easier, then at least to feel more effective and purposeful. Here goes!
1) Manage your own anxiety
This is number one for a reason. When we’re in a state of high anxiety, our decision-making abilities and our judgment are impaired. Sometimes parenting can feel like a chronic state of worry, from the low level to a five alarm fire. It’s your responsibility to take your internal temperature and know whether you could use a time-out.
If you need professional help, then seek it. Because your kids aren’t just observing your behavior; they’re breathing it in. It’s either affecting how they see you, how they see themselves, or how they see the world. Most likely, it impacts them on all three levels. You’re a better parent when you’re calm.
2) Assess for true needs–as in, am I truly needed in this situation?
Consider where your child is developmentally. This is about more than chronological age. Some kids are capable of taking on much larger amounts of responsibility than others even though they’re the same age.
If your children don’t seem able to do nearly as much as their peers, it’s time to ask yourself why that is. Does your child need more of your support, or is it the opposite? Is it time for you to let go in small ways and give your child the opportunities to gradually build up confidence?
Intervene only when necessary. If you don’t know when it’s necessary, if you feel like you might be trafficking in some enabling or codependent behaviors, then ask a trusted friend, family member, or therapist for their observations. You might be surprised what you hear.
3) Think about whether you’re protecting your child from natural consequences
Natural consequences are the best teacher. If your child habitually forgets her swimsuit, then she has to miss practice; you can’t just keep driving home to get it for her. She’ll learn better organization. Kids sometimes have to lose things they value in order to know what they need to work on. If you don’t allow your child to feel his or her mistakes, that impedes the learning process.
4) Let yourself grieve
Therapy and parenting are two jobs where you’re aiming for obsolescence. If I’m doing a good job with my clients, eventually they’ll be doing well without me. If parenting is as it should be, then your child will become more capable and less dependent all the time.
But that can be a loss for a parent. While it’s hard to be so central in a little person’s life, it’s also hard to eventually feel non-essential in your grown child’s life. Recognizing that it’s the natural order of things may help a little, but really, you just have to know that sadness is normal. Missing someone you love once the roles shift is normal.
Be kind and compassionate with yourself while you adjust to the new reality. And take a moment (or two or three or ten) to be proud of the amazing person you’ve unleashed on the world.
She’s also a novelist. Please visit her author page for details.