One morning at our kindergarten, when it was my turn to be a volunteer helper, I watched with fascination as a mother and son, “Billy”, went through their farewell ritual. If you struggle to let go of your children, this story might sound familiar!

“Is it okay if I go now Billy?” this mother asked

“No, not yet. Let’s go out to the swing!” So, she went outside to play with him.

Five minutes later, she asked again.

“Can I go now, Billy?”

“No!” came the stern reply.

This little routine continued. And finally after morning tea, the kindergarten teacher also became involved:

“Alright Billy, it’s time to let your mother go home and wash the dishes,” she explained, making it clear these shenanigans should stop.

Billy looked sadly up at the two women. And he sighed a big sigh.

“Alright, you can go home,” he mumbled.

Tearfully, Billy stood at the door, while his distraught mother walked away. And in less than 30 seconds, the little rascal ran from the door, and went off happily to play with his friends!

Did You See That?

It’s easy to see what happened: A lovely, considerate mother asks her four-year-old son’s permission to leave. And because she asked for his agreement, he takes control of the situation and says, “No!”

Yep. Billy was fully in control. That sigh and those tears were all part of the sham! And the final indignity to his mother – if only she had known – the quick run outside to play.

The trouble was, this mother was struggling to let go of her children.

A Better Approach

So what do you do instead?

When it’s time to leave, avoid asking a question and instead, make a statement.

“Billy, in five minutes I’ll go. I’ll be back later to pick you up for lunch. What will we do for the next five minutes before I leave?”

Even if he had protested, at least she would be in control. And Billy could still have some say in what happened next. Using a quiet, firm and friendly voice, she could have repeated the statement as necessary, asking for another adult to back up if needed. In this case, it would be the kindergarten teacher.

And after five minutes:

“Okay Billy. It’s time for me to go now. See you at lunchtime.”

Kisses, cuddles and walk out the door, without turning to see the tears. Because tears almost always come and go very quickly.

Do you do this too?

Part of my interest in that conversation was that years before, with my eldest child, I was just like that mother! But by the time I witnessed that interaction, I had changed. By then, I knew the golden words, “It’s time for me to go now.”

You’re not alone if this is your usual way of doing things. It’s so normal because, of course! you want to know your child is okay with you leaving. However, mostly you can assume your son or daughter will be fine. So I’m wondering, who is having trouble letting go?

There is an art to learning how to let go of your children.

Think about the long-term impact

At the time, asking for their permission feels good and right. It’s only when you get a master manipulator like Billy that you see the awful outcome. In the long-term, Billy gets used to having his mother at his beck and call. Soon she is doing all sorts of things for him.

Son relies on Mother. And Mother relies on Son.

It’s a nice little arrangement until one  of them is no longer able, or wants, this dependent relationship. And things easily go belly-up. Perhaps when school begins, or worse, as a teenager when Billy really wants to push against his over-protective parent. And sadly, it’s pretty hard to change the relationship by then.

Or perhaps you get tired of having this creature hanging around you. Suddenly there they are, going into their 20s and 30s. They’ve got so used to the dependency, that it’s too comfortable for them to change. Many mothers who have lovingly made life easy for their sons or daughters, have regretted it long-term because their child doesn’t want to grow up and take responsibility for  their own life!

This is why it’s so important to learn to appropriately let go of your children from when they are quite young. It’s a choice, your decision. You get to make it happen – or not.

Ways to let go of your children

Disclaimer: These suggestions assume you have carefully checked out the people who care for your children. No responsibility is taken by Treasuring Mothers if you leave your child in the care of someone who is inappropriate.

  • You can have a break from your new baby! Get someone you trust to care for them. Even if it’s only for 30 minutes.
  • Let grandparents in on the childcare every so often. Hopefully you have the sort of relationship where it’s easy to let go of your children in this context.
  • Toddlers can be cared for by a friend who has a child the same age. Give each other some free hours every couple of weeks by caring for each other’s children.
  • Allow your children to roam safely outside. Give suitable boundaries!
  • Be aware of their age and stage. Your level of supervision will change for a two-year-old, to a five-year-old, and older.
  • Until they are 10 years old, children should be supervised when crossing the road. This has much to do with their ability to see properly sideways. Here are some more clues about child safety around roads. Once they are old enough, and you have taught them how to be safe on the road, give them small achievable tasks. These might include walking to the local shop to buy milk; or crossing a quiet road to get to a playground.
  • Sleepovers at a friend’s place are a childhood highlight. Make sure you know the parents well, and find out who will be supervising. This goes for teens as well as younger children. You can never ask too many questions!
  • When your children are old enough it’s possible to go away for a few days . Read this to find out what NOT to do.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Letting go is important. But don’t let go too much! There is a balance to be achieved here. What you are aiming for is a fully functional and responsible adult. By the time your children get to age 18 or 20 they need to have the capacity to do most things for themselves. And it’s your job to carefully prepare them for it, because if you don’t, then who will?

Learning to let go of your children is one of those areas where you need to be as wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove. However, that’s the topic of the next blog, No. 18, in 20 Ways to Rock at Being a Mother.

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