From when our children were babies, we'd celebrate them learning new things and taking steps toward their own independence in every stage of their development, in all of its glory.
From learning how to walk, holding their bottles, saying their first words, eating by themselves, learning to read and write, riding a bike, etc, these little milestones they cross towards independence just made us so proud. We encouraged them. We celebrated them. We let go little by little so they can learn by themselves and cross these milestone thresholds all on their own.
As parents, we've been learning to let go from when our children were babies and it was fun, but somehow, as I've been experiencing, as they get older and older it also gets harder and harder. Letting go becomes something else.
I've been very conscious of the things I do, and the decisions I make when it comes to my son. It's been a couple of years now that I've been going through this letting go process with him. I try not to shelter him nor do I restrict him from venturing out and doing his own things - all within reason, of course, and he knows this. I knew that in order for him to grow, I would need to loosen my hold and provide him with the space that he needed, to grow, learn and discover his own individuality.
I was prepared for this, or so I thought.
As years stack up and he encroaches towards the late teens, I'm hit with the realisation that I'm getting closer and closer to the fact that somewhere in the very near future I will have to fully let go of my son so he can go on to do the amazing things that he is meant to do with his life.
There are different stages of letting go that we experience throughout our child's life - from their childhood, time together, closeness, companionship, their dependency on us and parental protection. In every developmental stage of their lives, we let go of pieces of who they used to be and embrace who they are developing into. With the changes in them, we as parents change too. Our roles, how we communicate and interact with them change too.
What I was not prepared for, was this internal emotional turmoil I keep going through in the privacy of my thoughts and my heart that brings me so much anxiety. It's not something I share because these years are about him, and not me. And as we do, we put our children's needs first and deal with ourselves later.
He's a stone's throw away from turning 18 and here are a few aspects of letting go that are currently contributing to my anxiety;
I've been struggling a lot with letting go lately - every time he walks out the door. Whether it's to college, out with friends, a football game, a sleepover, whatever it is, I struggle.
He's in college and we're already talking about him going to university overseas next year and every time we broach this subject my heart tightens and gives me levels of anxiety that I'm not prepared for. He'll also be getting his driving license soon and I don't even want to start thinking about when he's able to start driving. Don't get me wrong, I am truly excited for him. But I do struggle with the 'what if's'.
As we know it, the world is not always a pretty place. We have the experiences we go through and the stories we hear. There are situations and people that we encounter that can throw us off our tracks and you can never really prepare for it.
Is it wrong in wanting to keep your child safe? Is it wrong to want only the best of experiences for him? Is it wrong to want to be able to protect him at all times? Is it wrong that I want to hold his heart in my hand so he doesn't have to feel the cruelness of the world?........Especially since he's the only one you have?
I know my days are numbered where I can actually shelter or protect him from the world, though my heart so desperately wants to for as long as I can. On the other hand, I do want him to thrive in whatever situation, fend for himself and make sound decisions when he needs to. I realise that he can only do this if I let him go and allow him to make his own experiences.
As he marches into the world with wide eyes and full of excitement, I know he doesn't need the same physical protection that he once did from me, so the best I can do right now is give him advice where advice is due, support, encouragement and TRUST that the person he is growing into, the person, I time and time get a glimpse of, is more than capable of managing risky situations and holding his own.
But it still won't stop me from worrying or having anxiety.
Dependency and Parental Attachment
From the day they are born, our children are fully dependent on us for everything. They needed us for everything. Having this deep parental attachment to our children was all we knew and all they knew.
Throughout their childhood, we've been giving them little slithers of independence and under our attentive and loving eyes, we've been so proud of every one of their accomplishments.
18 years later, as they fight to be given more and more independence and autonomy to live on their own terms, and the need to express their own individuality, we know that it is only right to allow them the room and space for this natural process.
But it is easier said than done. The more I let go the more I want to hold on. I want to lean in deeper and love him harder.
For many years I was very much in every part of his life, experiencing everything WITH him, creating experiences FOR him. Now - I listen. Listen to his stories when he gets home, his experiences, his thoughts, his feelings. It makes me happy and honoured that he wants to share as much as he does with me but I can't help but feel left out. It's a bit selfish I know. But then I catch myself realising that now it's his time to create his own experiences, experiences separate from me and that this is part of him growing up. He needs to go through this. And so do I.
There are certain times that he struggles with certain things in his life and though my instinct would be to swoop in and make everything better, I'm always met with him telling me not to worry and that he'll figure it out on his own, which is admirable. So I hold back and holding back is no easy feat.
It takes a whole load of courage for parents to stand aside as they watch their teens struggle to try their new found wings and keep their footing at the same time.
One thing I know for sure is that as my son finds his place in the world, learn to deal with big emotions, and social challenges, navigating through their own internal changes and external pressures, he knows that I will always have his back.
The Loss of Who I Am As A Mom
There's a lot of emphasis put on our children growing up regarding their different developmental stages and how we should support them in each stage. But little is said about preparing parents for these different stages.
As a single mom to my only child, for almost 18 years, he has been my purpose. My entire being revolved around this boy. Now that it has reached this important milestone of his life, what will become of mine? I had thought I had a foolproof plan, but I don't. I feel like I'll have to start life all over again but how do I even begin when for the longest of time, being his mom was all I knew. We were an inseparable unit - joined at the hip. But as he takes these steps on his own path, he leaves me behind, standing on my own with no little hand to hold, and with my heart constantly in my throat fighting back tears.
It never crossed my mind that it would be this hard when my son reached the end of his teens - him having his own life has left me feeling empty.
For years, all I focussed on when my son reached this age, was that I'd be able to have more time to myself and I was actually looking forward to it. But, now that I'm here, going through this almost 'empty-nest' syndrome, I don't want it. I don't want all this time to myself. There's a sense of fear that surrounds it.
I do realise that as my son is trying to find his footing in the next chapter of his life, I guess in some way I am too, and it's scary as hell. The person that I was before I had him and the person I am now are two completely different people. Where do I even begin? Emotionally, I'm a wreck and I'm currently not in a space where I can move past this. Maybe in time.
I tell new mothers to live in the moment with their young children because these moments are fleeting. Life often gets in the way and sometimes we can take those younger years for granted thinking there is so much time. We don't expect time with our children to go by as fast as it does. For me, 18 years went by in a blink of an eye.
I miss so very much the little boy that was once him, but there are certain times I catch glimpses of that little boy peeking through this grown-up exterior my teen is now and my heart explodes....