Letting Go, Again
Every transition comes with a "letting go."
Posted Nov 06, 2014
I stood with my ex-husband, older daughter, and a bunch of strangers. It felt like time was suddenly passing too swiftly as I watched her walk away, barely able to turn back and look. She boarded a plane. My baby, nearly 21, is now across the globe in a time zone that makes my head spin when I try to imagine what she’s doing when I look at the clock.
It sounds so clichéd, but wasn’t it really just a few weeks ago when I couldn’t manage to get her wiggling legs into uncooperative jammies? When she grabbed my cheeks and gave me butterfly kisses? When I sang her to sleep or held her when she was troubled? How on earth did this happen? That was the emotional side of me talking.
It sounds crazy to think like this. While I’m ridiculously soft on the inside (I’ve been called a cockeyed optimist), I’m also practical, logical, and totally okay with tough love. I know how to get stuff done. I knew she was going to go. I’d endured this kind of goodbye once already, feeling exactly the same way, when my older daughter left for France. That time, though, I knew I’d be visiting. But, now they’re both grown up. And as much as I thought I was prepared, I wasn’t.
The key to letting go is to learn to have a fluid definition of yourself.
Granted, this is not so easy as a mother. If you are a mother, that’s the definition, right? But not so much. The mother of a newborn does not resemble the mother of a kindergartener, who does not resemble the mother of a 16-year-old learning to drive. In fact, you can see how a fluid definition of yourself is utterly vital in managing the transitions that come with the role of parent—or any role at all. It is just as important for our children as for us. By being able to make these shifts, we give them the gift of freedom, and teach them the same lesson we learned.
As you let go, bit by bit, it’s okay to reminisce, as long as it does not keep you trapped in a past that no longer serves you, or whatever or whomever you are trying to let go of. I used to love holding tiny baby feet in my hands, in awe of the tender newness of feet that had never touched the ground. When my children were young, I saw every growth stage as a trade-off. I had to “give up” the delicious newborn feet but, in return, got an adorable (and wild) toddler who would make me laugh, and I’d wonder at her accomplishments.
It’s kind of the same lesson over and over again. Sometimes it’s easier. Sometimes it’s harder. Everything changes and is an opportunity for growth in some fashion. And always, always, we need to learn to let go.
For me, attachment to my children is like no other attachment in the world. Nothing has tested me more than letting them go at different stages of their development: The first sleepover, taking public transportation alone in NYC for the first time, going off to college. And now, to the other side of the world to have an adventure from which she will grow beyond comprehension. And so will I.
It’s all good.
In my conversation with her before she left, we talked about making the best of any situation, about acknowledging, then letting go of fears that things won’t work out. We all have to do this every single day of our lives. It’s not giving up, it’s letting go. It’s letting the fear “walk behind you.” It’s reframing what’s not working. It’s releasing our limited view of what is possible.
Having goals is good. Letting go of expectations about how the goal will be achieved? Better. My daughter may have a tough entry into a culture that is different, with new people and new experiences, but trusting that she is where she should be is essential. The goals? A new experience, a time of personal and intellectual growth, to understand another culture. But it most likely will come in a different package than she expects.
That’s the letting go of the familiar—the mindset that tells us how it will be. This experience will give her another framework to use, another experience of doing something difficult and having it turn out wonderfully as she releases her idea of how it should go.
We try to hang on to the familiar, but when we do that, we don’t see the good that change can bring. We don’t see that we are limiting the joy of being present now, in this moment.
I can reminisce, even shed a tear now and then, but I have to let go. If I don’t, I’m fighting the inevitable. She will grow. I will grow. Our relationship will evolve into something that is a bit of a tradeoff. Less face time for an even richer relationship and appreciation for each other.
So the next time something scares the crap out of you, let go: of attachment, of the way you think it should go, of control. You have to act as if the goal you want will happen, and then? Release and trust that what you get will be perfect, and just what you need. No matter what.