Updated: Sep 9, 2020
The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. -Thomas Merton
I accept this as truth. A whole, complete, unvarnished tenet of parenting. With tears streaming down my face, I realize what it really means: Let go. And to be clear, this ‘let go’ is bigger than those antsy moments of playground watching as toddlers navigate jungle gyms; or the proverbial letting go of one’s own dream of becoming a star athlete through a child; or the the medium-sized ‘let go’ that comes with a child’s first days at a new school, stays at camps away from home, or driving away from the house for the first time with a new driver’s license. This is the excruciating, devastating, sacrificial ‘let go’; the one where you believe almost certainty of struggle for that precious life-force you nurture is guaranteed and waiting. Yet all you can do is focus on your breathing and remember that it is not your life to live, it is theirs. This is the beginning of love. This takes will. And so much help from a higher power. As parents, we must remember that being beside someone, even as they take what appears are scary steps to you, steps that you would not take, does not mean they should not take them. It means giving them freedom to fail, to fall, to hurt, to struggle, to grow, to reassess, to recalculate, to lean-in, to learn, to strengthen, to succeed, to choose to go again, to choose a different path, to choose you to lean on for strength, to choose someone else to lean on for strength, to find internal strength, to remember. This is secure attachment.
I remember the moment my first son was born vividly even today. I was so young and so completely naïve and utterly overcome with devastating love and a deep need to hold on to him. It as as if we were utterly cemented together, which speaks some to my instantaneous mothering instinct and devotion and also to my deep enmeshment that would take years of hard, emotional work to disentangle us from. Even then, I was shaken to the core upon realizing I would spend the next eighteen years learning how to ‘let go’ of him. Eighteen years is a cute thought, by the way, as I’m still ‘letting go’ twenty-one years later. Coupling this with the additional ‘letting go’ of his sixteen-year-old brother makes it feel like I have been learning to ‘let go’ for thirty-seven years now. (Parenting-math should work that way, right?) I’m old. I’m tired. And no, they are not grateful. No, they do not see my letting go as an act of love if they see it at all. They see it as their right. Their right! How insulting. I want to say to them, “I brought you here. I want to protect and nurture you. I want to make sure no harm comes to you, give you the best advantages and opportunities, make sure that you have the best outcomes, let your little personality shine through and you succeed into what you want in the best possible ways without any of the pitfalls I have experienced or anticipate.” But I don’t say that. Instead, I ‘let go’ and watch them choose to do things
I know will possibly fail or make life harder for them. I’m at the very least baffled and at the most insulted. I mean, isn’t this a little ‘Garden of Eden’? And don’t we all know how that ended?
Once again, I have to be gobsmacked (God smacked?) across the face with humility in my parenting and be reminded of what my own higher power chooses to do with me. What about that great ‘Garden of Eden’? They chose, He let them be perfectly themselves, and not twist them to fit His own image. Only now do I realize how truly hard that must have been, for Him. And only now do I realize that was just the beginning of love. He let them go. He offered them what He believed was the most perfect option for life, with rules, guidance and teaching included for years that they grew from and in the end… they said “No. We want to try this our way.” So. He let them go out into the world, to know themselves, to learn, to grow, to hurt, to fail, to succeed, to love, to laugh. And He went with them. And isn’t THAT secure attachment? Isn’t THAT what we are trying to emulate in some hopeful likeness?
I am not suggesting dropping off your kid at a dark alley and wishing them luck. (Replace dark alley with rave, unlocked gun cabinet, friend’s all-night no-parent co-ed sleep-over, etc. and you get my point). You will always exercise good judgement when it comes to reasonable safety with your children and harm to their lives. You, too, will provide rules, guidance and teaching for years and they will grow. AND… we all deserve autonomy, independence, individualism. To be different. To be unique. Perfectly ourselves. To not be a reflection of the people around us. Or the lives they lived. Or had hoped to live. Providing that to your child is not only the beginning of love but the journey to secure attachment. And it is hard ,ya’ll!