The Art of Letting Go
After two years together, I like to think I know my kid pretty well. I can decipher much of his babbling into words, I know when he needs a trip to the restroom, and I always keep his favorite fruit – blueberries – on hand. With his ever growing independence though, I’m learning a difficult parenting technique that I’ve yet to master and doubt I ever will: letting go.
This past weekend we went to visit Nan and Pop in Minnesota, and while sledding got a big fat NOPE, he seemed to embrace the giant inflatable slides at the aptly named Bounce World with ease. His favorite slide was one built in the shape of a fire truck. (Even on the car ride home the next day, he was still mumbling about “fire truck slide!”) While Eric went with him the first handful of times, eventually I asked him to step out and let this eager toddler (just at the height minimum of 34” printed on the side of the inflatable in a large WARNING area) try it out on his own.
Slowly, and with an impatient line of older kids growing behind him, he climbed the inflatable stair ladder to the top. As other kids tried to push around him (note to self: be a parent who teaches my kid to respect and wait for smaller kids…) I had to fight back tears watching him sit at the top of the slide some 15’ up. There was such a joy on his face as he pushed off and starfish slid down to the bottom (and then promptly got squished by the big kids sliding down after him.) But he was unfazed and climbed back over to the ladder to go up and down again. And again. And again until we had to drag him kicking and screaming out of the building because it was nap time. (And oh how he passed out quick.)
While stressful for me, I still love to watch him navigate these spaces and situations. But there are a lot of emotions involved. I’m nervous wondering if the bigger kids are going to accidentally hurt him. I’m anxious worrying that the other parents are judging me for allowing my small child to do this. Mostly I’m proud because look at that kid go! And overall it’s bittersweet because I’m so used to having him depend on us, and now I have to let go and let him make his own choices – good and bad.
I truly think that teaching independence is one of the hardest but most important things we can do as parents. We want to create a safe and warm environment where our kids always know we are there to support them and help them, but also encourage them to ask question, solve problems, and create adventures for themselves.
Right now, I do this mostly by being an enthusiastic observer. My toddler is two. He’s not ready for full independence. He wants to know that I’m happy when he’s happy and sad when he’s sad. He wants to know that when he reaches the top of the slide and looks at me smiling, I’m there watching him and smiling back. He wants to show me everything that he can do.
It’s a hard place to be. I’m trying to parent in a middle ground between hovering over his every move and being too wrapped up in my own world. And I’m still trying to figure it out. As he learns to climb up the inflatable slide, I learn to let him. And we do it again and again and again until we move on to the next big thing. Or nap time.