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Every single day as a parent is a lesson in letting go. I mean this literally. Since the day the idea for this post came to me, four days ago, I have had four different renditions of this lesson. And you know what? Each lesson is harder than the last one. And I’m going to talk about each lesson today.
Scenario 1- Letting go physically
As parents, we are the primary caregivers, so it stands to reason that our kids will turn to us for that comforting cuddle or the bear hug which soothes all troubles. I still remember the moments when Gy would clutch my hand tightly while crossing the road or cling to my leg in the supermarket. In fact, any time it appeared as if I was about to head out, her toddler eyes would light up. She’d come dashing towards the door, hope unfolding in her puppy eyes and a plea on her lips, ‘Amma, I want to come with you!’
On many occasions, I would scoop her up and carry her along. That stopped pretty soon as my arms couldn’t take her plump baby fat as the years progressed. But we’d walk, hand in hand, watching butterflies on our path or counting cars on the road. And it was an incredible feeling. So much so that I could never imagine a time when this wouldn’t happen.
About ten days ago, she offered to go down to the grocery store and pick up some milk. The store is 350 metres away (I checked!) and it’s on a road with some amount of traffic. After debating the decision for a while, I agreed to send her, provided she took the bike and would watch herself on the road. Delighted, she gave me a bear hug, strapped on her helmet and wheeled the bicycle out.
I’m not going to lie. That was the hardest thing for me to do! From my home’s balcony, I can view the road for about 200 metres, so I watched like a hawk as her lithe form cycled over rough terrain, dodging cats and dogs while avoiding larger vehicles. Each time my heart jumped into my throat as she slowed down.
After a while, I couldn’t see her thanks to the tree cover. Fingers twiddling, eyebrows furrowed, I breathed deeply, waiting for the 15 minutes to elapse when I could see her blue helmet again. Pacing up and down the balcony only seemed to aggravate my tension further!
This was a stupid idea! What was I thinking? No way am I going to send her again!
But the second I saw her return on the bike, my heart did a fist pump (is that even possible?) and I let out a silent whoop of joy. Her eyes shone as I opened the door and she exclaimed, ‘Amma, that was amazing! I want to do this regularly!’
With a bittersweet smile, I hugged her and realised the first truth about letting go:
Letting them go, physically, is hard, but it teaches them about taking risks.
Scenario 2 – Letting go mentally
For the last two months, almost every Sunday, I’ve taken Gy to her music class across town. While the location is 30 kilometres away and would ordinarily have taken me 2 hours one way, the Metro line has saved abundant time! We now make the journey in 35 minutes and in the confines of an air-conditioned train. It’s a dream come true, given the traffic snarls in this city!
Since we’ve comfortably managed this routine, I’ve purchased an extra Metro travel card for her, which makes swiping in and out of stations quick and easy. Her 11-year-old self is delighted with the whole experience: swiping the card, running up the stairs to catch the train, grabbing a favourite seat in the coach or just standing while holding on to the guard rail watching the city zoom past. She even mouths along with the recorded announcements over the PA system, switching comfortably between Kannada and English.
It’s a delight to watch that energy and also envy it to some extent. And I’m happy because it gives us a chance to travel together and while away the time in idle chatter.
Which is why it came as a slight shock when she announced this morning: ‘You know, in about 2 years or so, I should take the Metro alone. I already know everything to be done. Would be fun, don’t you think?’
I confess I didn’t share this sentiment. My 13-year-old, alone on a train? What was she thinking? It’s just the excitement talking!
As the day wore on and I had time to think about it, I realised that even if it didn’t happen 2 years from now, there would come a day when it would happen! I would have to stand at the door and bid her goodbye when she decides to take a train alone, move to another city alone or set off for work. Alone.
That, then, was the second lesson in letting go.
Let them speak about their independence, for pretty soon, it’s going to be a reality.
Scenario 3 – Letting go intellectually
As a Type A person (and it’s not something I am necessarily proud of), I need things done a certain way and within a certain time. A lot of our power struggles as mom and daughter emerge from this habit of mine.
I was not the brightest student in the class till middle school. In fact, I could easily qualify for the bottom of the class and pretty often did. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the brains for it. I simply didn’t have the inclination to study.
That changed in Grade 8, due to a number of reasons. A switch in my brain flipped and from then I worked hard and really enjoyed the art of studying and learning.
Today, when I see Gy it frustrates me no end, especially when I know of her potential as a person. If she would only take the effort to actually work a bit harder, she would see the results. She chooses to study if the mood strikes or if it’s a subject that she enjoys but nowhere near what I would expect of her.
This led to meltdowns, tantrums and ‘I hate yous’ thrown my way every time I’d ask her to study. And honestly, the tension in the room is pretty thick on those days.
After a particularly explosive episode which resulted in her storming out of the room and yelling at me, I sat down, shaken. Closing my eyes, I reflected on what could be done. That’s when I recalled my own life as a student. It needed a particular set of circumstances to make me move out of my languid zone and into a space of love for learning. And the trick was it didn’t happen because someone pushed me into it. It had to occur on its own and when the time was right.
That was the third lesson in letting go that came to me:
Scenario 4 – Letting go emotionally
I know I talk a lot about peaceful parenting and not yelling at your kids. While that is an ideal scenario and something that should happen effortlessly, it’s not always that simple. And I don’t yell, but I do find the tension rise in my shoulders and work its way up to my brain when things appear to get out of hand.
Handling a tween is a very tricky situation because the smallest of things can set them off. They are equally quick to apologise and come in for that hug when they’ve acted out too. But this up and down behaviour can take a toll on a parent. Ask me. I know.
One big mistake most of us make in relationships is the weight of expectations that we place on each other. This applies to friends, spouses, colleagues and of course, parents and kids. I’ve always prided myself on being reasonably expectation-free when it comes to my relationships. I try not to place undue stress on anyone or judge them for their behaviour since I allow them a lot of leeway.
The one relationship I haven’t done that with is the one with Gy.
My reasons for these are varied. In my eyes, I am responsible for her. Her actions are a reflection on me. People will judge me if she slips up. If she doesn’t behave as expected, fingers will be pointed at my upbringing.
Can you tell that the weight of parenting guilt sits on me, as heavy as a mountain?
After one episode which led to me holding my tongue for the better part of a day, I learnt an important lesson: I shouldn’t have any expectations of her either. She is a child. She is learning, stumbling, finding her way through life the best way she can. While I can guide her, help her understand right from wrong, I cannot prevent every mistake she makes. In fact, I shouldn’t.
And that was the final lesson in letting go and for this, I shall quote my favourite extract from Khalil Gibran:
‘Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
~ From ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran
I don’t have parenting all figured out. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Every day throws up a new challenge and when I am in the right frame of mind, I can tackle this all with a clear head. Sometimes, though, life gets in the way and I need reminders that we are all trying our best.
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