Raising Mary: How to let go when you need to let go

By Tracy Cooper on September 17, 2013
Last summer, Mary learned to ride her bike without training wheels. Our street is the shape of a capital P, with our house near the bottom of the straight line. One day, I suggested to Mary that she ride around the loop by herself. I’d watch and wait from our driveway, knowing I’d lose sight of her.

Off she went. I decided to meet her on her way. Her little sister and I rounded the curve. Mary should have been well along and I couldn’t see her. A terrible pit opened in my gut like a sinkhole. There was a walkway on the loop leading to a busy street. Surely she wouldn’t turn down that path?

I called out. No answer. I dragged Adelaide faster than her little legs could comfortably walk. I found Mary sitting on the step at the house; she had decided to turn back just as I set off to meet her.

Somehow I shook off that moment. Now, I let her bike alone across small intersections and zip far ahead on the way home from school.

But there are other ways I have to let go, such as allowing my kids to care for themselves. I let the girls wash their own bodies in the shower, but not their hair. (Mary’s is so thick, it’s hard to get the shampoo to her scalp.) Mary brushes her teeth, but I still help Adelaide.

What about letting children make life decisions that may end in disappointment? We’re just getting into this with Mary. She announced she was trying out for the school talent show, singing a song by herself. I thought of the older kids trying out. I figured she wouldn’t make it, but reluctantly let her do it anyway.

Lo and behold, she made it into the show. With that same pit in my stomach, I watched her walk on stage, take a deep breath and sing. She remembered all the words, hit all the notes, and the people clapped. I kicked myself for not wanting her to try. Sooner or later, the training wheels have to come off. It’s the knowing when that stumps me.

Expert Advice ~ Psychologist Sara Dimerman says:

We are our own worst critics. We often berate ourselves for holding our children too close. Even call ourselves names like “over protective” and “neurotic”. We are often even embarrassed when we see other parents appearing more relaxed, while we are still holding our child’s hand tight.

I say trust your intuition. Don’t rush to cut the invisible leash before your child is ready and able. There are many at-home and in-school opportunities for children to make decisions independent of you that will help develop confi dence and life skills.

However, when it comes to issues around safety – such as walking or biking to school alone, or going into the washroom alone in a public setting – err on the side of caution.

As long as you regularly evaluate whether not letting go has more to do with you not being ready, versus your child’s ability to take on the responsibility, then you’re doing OK.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 7, and Adelaide, 5.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

By Tracy Cooper| September 17, 2013

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