Mommy Vortex: When They Grow Up, How Do You Let Go?
Does there ever come a point in motherhood that we can fully let go of our children, trusting them to be self-sufficient and independent of us? I often think about parenting as working yourself out of a job: if you do it right, you’re no longer needed as much. I still rely on my own mother, but in a much different way than when I was seven. She trusted me along the way, allowing me to find my path with a guiding hand. I know that she had to let go at times to allow me to grow. I’m grateful for that.
I just don’t think I can do the same thing with my own children. Every time I have the opportunity to let go, I seem to be paralyzed with fear. I just want to hold on tighter.
This past weekend, my almost-eight-year old had a camping trip with his Cub Scout pack. The weather called for violent thunderstorms over night. I gently—then not so gently—suggested that maybe he shouldn’t go. The thought of my baby in the woods in the middle of a raging storm was more than I could bear.
“Trust me, Mom. I can do this,” my son said earnestly. Trust him? He’s only seven! Immediately thoughts of that sweet boy who was allowed to walk to the bus stop alone for the first time, only to be kidnapped and allegedly murdered, pierced my brain. Yes, it was a (very) dramatic inward response. But there are so many dangers out there. And this was my child who could potentially be in harm’s way. My child, who from the time he was born drank filtered water, ate organic fruits and vegetables, never went outside without sunscreen and a hat, and was always properly buckled in his car seat.
So, no, sleeping out in the woods in the pouring rain was just not in my plan of acceptable, safe things for my son to do at seven years old. Or ever, really.
My husband and my own father, both outdoorsmen who were accompanying my son on the trip, were not nearly as worried as I was. I’m not sure if this is a different response due to the fact that men sometimes parent differently or due to the fact that they would be going themselves and therefore had some measure of control over my son’s safety. Nevertheless, they thought it was fine to go. My vehement disagreement fell on deaf ears.
I obsessed about this trip and the weather for two days prior to their departure. I kept thinking of all the things that could go wrong – a tree limb falling on their tent, lightening causing a forest fire. I admit that my theatrical worries are almost laughable in retrospect. But I also thought very long and very hard about the consequences of not letting my son go. Beyond his own disappointment, I knew I would be crushing his confidence and the trust he wanted me to have in him. I grappled with the fact that he is only seven—I think that parents really do know best at this age—but he was taking his cues from me, and I didn’t want him to think that I thought so little of him that I couldn’t trust him with his fellow Scouts and his father and grandfather.
I thought about all the times I had asked my parents to trust me over the years: the time (at seven years old) when I asked to quit dancing school to play soccer; the first time I wanted to go to the movies alone with a friend; when I wanted to drive the car alone; when I decided to take a year off after college before graduate school. The list goes on and on. I thought about how making these decisions—and being trusted to do so with the right information—shaped me into a confident, independent thinker.
I wanted that for my son. The question, however, was whether this was the right time to instill that kind of trust in my own son.
With great reservation, I relented.
As the storm raged outside, rain falling on an angry slant and the wind literally blowing tree limbs down (as I had feared), I paced around my dark house for hours, knowing my son was sleeping outside in this weather. No, I did not sleep that night. At all.
At six-thirty the next morning, I received a text from my husband stating that everyone was fine because of the preparations they had all made knowing the storm was coming. They were all perfectly safe, and my son was so proud of himself for his Scouting accomplishment.
While I’m still not sure I made the right decision in letting him go camping that weekend, I am sure that my son’s self-confidence (and survival skills) benefited from the excursion. If something would have happened to him, though, I would never have forgiven myself; I would have blamed myself for whatever went wrong, regardless of the circumstances. And I think that sentiment will be true for any new milestone in my son’s life: the first time he sleeps over at a friend’s house; the first time he rides an inverted roller coaster; the first time he drives alone; when he goes off to college. Each time I will hold my breath until he is safely in my arms again.
This is the plight of a parent. We work so hard to keep our children safe from birth (before, even), only to have to eventually let them go. It starts with the little things, but gets harder and harder as they grow.
If we do our jobs the best we can, we will have prepared our children for those moments when they have to fly with their own wings. I already know I will have to resist the urge to follow my children with a safety net. I will simply have to hope that my guidance has given them the ability to successfully and safely navigate their own path.
That hope, however, will likely not stop me from pacing in the middle of the night. It’s just too hard to ever really let go.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.