The Constant Process of Learning to Let Go

Paisley off to camp.

Paisley (9yo) was up at 6am (!!) this morning, bags packed, and ready to go off to sleep-away camp with her elementary class. Think she’s excited??

About a month before my first child was born (almost a decade ago!!!), one of my co-workers, when I asked her (an experienced mom of two boys) what I absolutely had to know about being a parent (I may or may not have been nervous about what I’d gotten myself into…), gave me the very best piece of advice I have ever received about parenting: “Being a parent is a constant process of learning to let go.” And after dropping that bombshell, she left me to sip at my decaf (I was pregnant, remember?) Americano and wonder what on Earth she meant. Letting go of what?!

About six months into being a new mom, I realized that she meant letting go of EVER SLEEPING AGAIN. Honestly. I remember all these (stupid) strangers looking at my bleary-eyed self trying to navigate the grocery store aisles while carting around a baby who kept throwing her pacifier on the floor, and (mean-spiritedly) telling me, “Don’t worry. It’ll get better!” Liars. Dirty rotten liars!! It did not get better! Getting better meant the baby wouldn’t need me to rock her to sleep for an hour and a half before I could put her down. Getting better meant that she wouldn’t wake up every two hours all night long. Getting better meant that I wouldn’t need to drive her around town for her to take an afternoon nap. Getting better meant that 5:30am would never be an acceptable wake-up time, EVER. But then it struck me, one middle-of-the-night rocking-back-to-sleep session when I was praying to every deity I could think of to let me and my child sleep, that I was never never never going to sleep like I did before I had children. I intellectually knew, of course, that the baby would learn to sleep through the night. But she’d still have nightmares, or get sick, or just need a glass of water or a snuggle that would require my middle-of-the-night assistance, even when she was 2 or 5 or 9… And even when she’s 18, I’ll probably stay up at night worrying about whether she passed that crucial college exam or whether she remembered to lock her windows as well as her doors or whether she was eating enough vegetables. And once I learned to let go of the desire to sleep like I once did (once upon a time, in a land far far away, I slept for nine hours every night… I call this my princess phase), I was able to accept that I would be sleep deprived for a long time, and adapted to the situation; the sleep thing didn’t get “better” like the liars at the grocery store said it would, but it did get “easier.” And that was almost as good.

Of course, sleep isn’t the only thing I’ve had to learn to let go of in the years since I became a parent – it’s just the first time I truly GOT that my co-worker was soul-shatteringly RIGHT, and that I’ll probably need to constantly remind myself to “let go” as I watch my children grow: let go of their hands as they learn to toddle, walk, and then run on their own; let go of my (intense) fear of watching them lay backwards and hang off the merry-go-round at the park as it spins at 386rpm (I distinctly remember watching Paisley, then 4yo, letting her long hair drag on the ground as she went round and round and round, cackling in delight the whole time – I literally had to turn around to keep myself from throwing up); let go of my desire to walk right into class with them, on that first day of school and every day after; let go of my expectations that they should be happily eating (as in: “This is delicious! Wow! You’re the best mama ever!”) whatever I put in front of them on the dinner table, even if there are vegetables involved – and there are always vegetables involved (I’m still working on this one; really, what’s so wrong with butternut squash and kale?!).

Today, I am yet again reminded that parenthood is a constant process of learning to let go. And for the record: it SUCKS.

This morning, Paisley (now 9yo) merrily (and with barely a good-bye) left for sleep-away camp with her entire class. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an AWESOME experience: three days and two nights on gorgeous Vashon Island, hikes and campfires and story-telling, seeing weeks and weeks of preparation (the students themselves are responsible for planning meals, grocery lists, itineraries, and who will lead hikes and take on various duties – this year, for instance, Paisley is in the First Aid group, and as I’ve written about before, she’s very good at applying antibiotic ointments and band aids) pay off in the smooth execution of a successful, and fun, trip… The benefits from these annual excursions for the elementary kids are countless: exploring nature, expanding horizons, developing an appreciation for the larger world and community, and so many other fundamental character building experiences. Plus, it’s a slumber party, there will be pancakes, and the ferry ride to Vashon rocks. Every year, the kids (at least my kid) can’t wait to go…

Which is why it SUCKS. Why does my kid WANT to leave me?? Why can’t I go (and some parents DO go as chaperones; it’s just that Paisley insisted that Bill and I NOT sign up to volunteer – sheesh! What am I supposed to do with that?!)? I don’t WANT to say good-bye! I don’t WANT to LET GO…

The house is too quiet without her. Her 5yo brother will cry tonight, when he realizes he has to sleep in their room alone. And I miss her. Already.

Crap, here I go crying again! I’m so emotional these days…

Okay, fine. I’m letting go. It’s not like I have a choice, but I’m working on it… I know it’s important that I learn to let go. My daughter needs these life lessons, which are so critical for her developing into the independent, confident, open-minded, and socially aware woman her father and I hope she’ll become. My boys will need these same kinds of life lessons, too, so I’m staring at a long future of years and years and years of letting my (precious, little, breakable) children go out into that big crazy world, of letting them explore and learn and get hurt and be scared and persevere and grow and grow and grow.

So, I guess I better stop crying, and just keep working on learning to let them go…

(Long, fairly loud, SIGH….)

Just as long as they always know that they can come back. Whenever they want.

(Sniffle sniffle sniff…)

11 thoughts on “The Constant Process of Learning to Let Go

  1. I have found a book that reminds me how and why to let go…a very difficult and emotional task as you have so well put into words here! If you haven’t already, check out Someday by Alison McGee

  2. Ally (my oldest) is starting school this fall. 😦 I know I’m going to cry. Silly momma. *sigh* why does them growing up have to be so hard for me? Well, us I guess. Parents.

    • The first day of school is ROUGH!! Sorry, I’m not going to lie… The worst are the days when the teacher actually has to pry your screaming child out of your arms – it happened a few times with my oldest. You feel like the scummiest, worstest Mama on the planet. And then a) you call your Mom, who tells you you did the same to her and you weren’t emotionally scarred for life (well, you might be, but probably not from school drop-offs!), and b) the teacher tells you your child stopped crying as soon as you left – the show was all for your guilt-inducing pleasure. But you will survive! You’ll cry, but you WILL survive. 🙂

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