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

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.

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